'New era' for India after landslide Modi victory
NEW DELHI - Agence Presse France
Supporters of the India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate after learning of the poll results outside the party headquarters in New Delhi May 16, 2014. REUTERS PhotoIndia's triumphant Hindu nationalists declared "a new era" in the world's biggest democracy Friday after hardline leader Narendra Modi propelled them to the biggest win in 30 years on promises to revitalise the economy.
Preliminary results at the end of the marathon six-week election showed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by prime ministerial candidate Modi on track for the first parliamentary majority by a single party since 1984.
Most of the poverty-wracked country's 1.2 billion people -- more than half of whom are under 25 -- have never witnessed such dominance having grown up in an era of fractious coalition politics. Modi, the 63-year-old son of a tea seller tainted by anti-Muslim riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002, wrote on Twitter that "India has won. Good days are coming."
The stunning results exceeded all forecasts. Firecrackers exploded at BJP offices around the country, sweets were handed out to celebrate and painted elephants paraded in front of party headquarters.
The triumph redraws India's political map, elevating the BJP to a pan-national power, handing Modi a huge mandate for change and heaping humiliation on the ruling Gandhi political dynasty.
The immediate change Modi will need to deliver is an improvement in the economy, growing at its slowest rate in a decade, and his commitment to the BJP's Hindu nationalist agenda will be closely watched by India's 150 million Muslims.
"It is dawn of a new era. The lotus has bloomed all over India now," said BJP president Rajnath Singh, referring to the flower symbol of his party whose previous all-time high was 182 seats in 1999.
"I appeal to my workers that even in this historic victory they maintain discipline and calm, against any section or people," he added, hinting at the fears of religious tensions.
Preliminary figures from the Election Commission showed the BJP winning more than the 272 seats required for a majority on its own in the 543-seat parliament, with victories by its allies taking it easily in excess of 330.
The Congress party, the national secular force that has run India for all but 13 years since independence, was set to crash to its worst ever result with fewer than 50 seats, a quarter of its tally in 2009.
It has headed two successive left-leaning coalition governments since 2004.
The disastrous showing is a severe blow to the Gandhi dynasty which runs Congress, particularly for 43-year-old scion Rahul whose first performance as chief national campaigner will lead to acrimonious fallout.
In brief remarks and smiling despite the grim news, Rahul admitted that Congress had "done pretty badly. As vice-president of the party I hold myself responsible."
Earlier in the day, a group of Congress supporters shouted slogans in support of Rahul's more popular sister Priyanka outside party headquarters.
The country's most illustrious political family has provided three prime ministers and Rahul's mother Sonia is party president.
Outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who said in January that Modi would be "disastrous for the country" after "presiding over the massacre of innocents", called to congratulate him, his office said.
On financial markets, India's main Bombay Stock Exchange index, which has risen five percent in the past week, surged more than six percent in the morning but tapered its gains to close up 0.9 percent.
Investors and the wider public have rediscovered heady -- many say unrealistic -- optimism about the world's second-most populous nation after years of frustration about weak leadership, rising food prices and corruption.
"There's a very tough task ahead that will take time to resolve, the economic problems are quite acute. There's no magic wand," D.K. Joshi, chief economist of credit rating agency Crisil, told AFP.
India is in the grip of stagflation -- growth has slumped to 4.9 percent from nine percent two years ago and consumer inflation is at a wage-eroding 8.6 percent.
Modi has reinvented himself from a controversial regional leader accused of turning a blind eye to religious riots in 2002 to an aspiring prime minister intent on helping India fulfil its potential.
His promises to revive the economy have won him corporate cheerleaders, while his rags-to-riches story and reputation as a clean and efficient administrator satisfy many Indians' desire for strong leadership.
Attacks from his opponents -- one called him a "devil" and the "Butcher of Gujarat" -- as well as warnings from secular-minded critics and religious minorities have failed to dent his rise.
While Singh, 81, was hailed by US President Barack Obama as a "wise and decent man", Modi presents an awkward prospect for Washington and other Western powers.
The bachelor, elected three times as chief minister in his home state, was boycotted by the US and European powers over the 2002 Gujarat riots that left around 1,000 dead.
He denies that he turned a blind eye to the bloodshed and investigators have never found evidence of wrongdoing.
David Cameron, the prime minister of former colonial ruler Britain, was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Modi, saying he was "keen to work together to get the most from UK-India relationship"