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India's next prime minister

Update -- May 16, 7:20 a.m.

India's next prime minister, Narendra Modi, is the son of a poor tea seller and has long set his sights on the highest elected office in the world's largest democracy.

The top official in Gujarat state for over a decade, Modi often contrasted his humble roots with the posh background of his main rival, 43-year-old Rahul Gandhi, heir to India's most powerful political dynasty.

As the career politician led his Bharatiya Janata Party through a dazzling, high-tech election campaign, Modi called voters' attention to his mother riding a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw to cast her ballot earlier this month.

"I am the chief minister of a prosperous state ... And my 90-year-old mother goes to vote in an auto-rickshaw," the white-bearded Modi boasted, punching a fist through the air as he claimed his place by India's poor masses.

But despite playing up his folksy, common-man credentials, the 63-year-old Modi is widely seen as the darling of India's corporate world and a decisive, 21st-century administrator expected to revive job creation and economic growth.

Modi's singular message on the economy has helped him ignore or beat back criticism of his personal life — including his strong links to a right-wing Hindu nationalist group, as well as his four-decade marriage to a retired school teacher he had never mentioned publicly until last month.


Officials began counting votes Friday following India's massive national election, with exit polls predicting a victory for the country's pro-business, Hindu nationalist opposition.

The Election Commission was expected to announce the results later in the day.

There was a record turnout in this year's election, with 66.38 per cent of India's 814 million eligible voters casting ballots during the six-week contest, which was held in stages across the country. Turnout in the 2009 elections was 58.13 per cent.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and its candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi, campaigned on promises of a revival in economic growth. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the ruling Congress party, which has been in power for a decade

The BJP's slick and well-financed campaign also promised better governance. The Congress-led ruling alliance has been plagued by repeated corruption scandals, and the Congress party's 43-year-old leader, Rahul Gandhi, appeared to have failed to inspire public confidence.

Exit polls by at least six major Indian TV stations predicted a BJP-led coalition would win between 249 and 289 seats in the 543-seat Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament.

A party or coalition needs at least 272 seats to form a government.

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