Modi loyalists in India's Hindu holy city want more change

Motor boats ferrying people on the Ganges river at Varanasi (Niharika KULKARNI)
Motor boats ferrying people on the Ganges river at Varanasi (Niharika KULKARNI)

India's official election results are two days away but heartland supporters of Hindu-nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi are eagerly awaiting his third-term policies and the changes they demand.

Modi loyalists hope their backing of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will bring them rapid benefits -- jobs, investment, infrastructure -- and entrench the powerful dominance of India's Hindu majority.

But supporters in Modi's constituency Varanasi -- the spiritual capital of Hinduism where devotees come to cremate deceased loved ones by the Ganges river -- are convinced of the outcome even before results are announced on Tuesday.

"For us, he's already re-elected," 48-year-old tea stall worker Bharat Lal Yadav said Sunday, a day after voting in the final round of the staggered six-week election ended.

Exit polls showed Modi was well on track to triumph, with the premier saying he was confident that people had "voted in record numbers" to re-elect his government.

- 'Nothing is impossible' -

Varanasi was one of the final areas to vote, a holy city where public support for Modi's ever-closer alignment of religion and politics burns brightest.

The ascent of Modi's Hindu-nationalist politics -- despite India's officially secular constitution -- has made India's 200-million-plus Muslims increasingly anxious.

Varanasi is home to the Gyanvapi mosque, one of several Islamic houses of worship that Hindu activists, backed by Modi's BJP, have sought for decades to reclaim.

Businessman Pradeep Kumar Gupta, 57, said his "vote to Modi was about faith and religion".

"This vote was on the issue of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) and the people rose above the issues of jobs and inflation," Gupta said.

"He has done great things for our culture."

Nand Lal, who sells flowers for Hindu devotees to take to a nearby temple, believed Modi would now have the mandate and strength to drive through the policies he wanted.

"Whatever (the Hindu god) Shiva wills, Modi will do it," Lal said.

"He will solve it all -- including this Gyanvapi mosque issue."

The belief that Modi's expected third term in office could see radical change was echoed by shopkeeper Ramesh Gupta.

"He can solve these disputes, he can do it," the 55-year-old said.

"Nothing is impossible for him."

- 'The king' -

But even his adoring supporters say that Modi must work hard to improve the economy, with chronic unemployment in one of the world's fastest-growing major economies a major issue.

Tea seller Yadav said he wanted inflation brought down.

"It needs his attention so that even poor people are able to save something," he said.

Chandrashekhar Sharma, 45, who sells Hindu prayer items, said he had "no doubt Modi is coming back" but added that "after his return, he should address the issue of unemployment".

Other devoted supporters, such as 55-year-old Chedi Ram, said there wasn't much point in thinking about what Modi could achieve in a third term.

"Modi is the king," Ram said. "No matter what you say or think, he'd do what he wants. He is his own man."