India PM Modi concedes defeat in Delhi state election

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conceded defeat on Tuesday in Delhi state elections as early results showed anti-corruption campaigner Arvind Kejriwal's party set for a landslide victory.

Mr Modi assured Mr Kejriwal of the national government's "complete support" following the right-wing premier's first election loss since storming to power at general polls last May.

"Spoke to @ArvindKejriwal & congratulated him on the win. Assured him Centre's complete support in the development of Delhi," Mr Modi said in a tweet.

Early tallies showed Mr Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leading in just three seats in the 70-seat state assembly, with former Delhi chief minister Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ahead in 66.

Officials began counting millions of ballots at 8am, with exit polls from weekend elections predicting a huge loss for Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

A Kejriwal victory marks a stunning comeback for the anti-graft champion and self-styled anarchist, who resigned following a chaotic 49-day spell in charge of the Delhi state government a year ago.

Hundreds of AAP supporters were massing outside the party's headquarters in Delhi, dancing, singing and waving flags with pictures of former tax official Kejriwal.

Observers say a defeat will be a significant setback for a prime minister who has enjoyed an extended honeymoon with voters since his landslide general election victory in May.

A BJP spokesman said the results were not a sign of anti-Modi sentiment and that the election had been fought on local issues, including pledges for lower utility bills and countering corruption.

"There is not an iota of negativity against the NDA (national) government anywhere in the country let alone in Delhi," spokesman GVL Narasimha Rao told NDTV.

"There is a local election where local factors dominated."

A loss would set back Mr Modi's efforts to consolidate power in the national parliament to push through promised economic reforms.

Mr Modi needs to win state elections to gain control of both houses of parliament, where he is attempting to push through reforms on land acquisition, tax and other issues to revive the economy.

States are allocated seats in the nation's upper house where the BJP does not have a majority.

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