In his first speech after winning a historic landslide victory to take power in the world’s largest democracy, controversial Indian Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi has pledged to work for all 1.25 billion of his fellow Indians.
“Brothers, sisters, you have faith in me and I have faith in you,” Modi, 63, told an ecstatic crowd in the town of Vadodara, from where he stood for election in the five-week poll. “The people of this country have given their verdict. This verdict says we have to make the dreams of 1.25 billion people come true. I must work hard.”
With most of the 550 million votes counted, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appeared to have vastly exceeded all predictions and with existing allies, was set to win as many as 350 of the 543 elected seats of India’s lower house.
The National Congress of India party, which has been in power since 2004 and for all but 18 of the past 67 years, appeared to be heading for its lowest-ever tally, with 44 seats.
Experts say the political landscape of India has been transformed. The vote is the most decisive mandate for any Indian leader since the 1984 assassination of former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi propelled her son, former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, to office.
World leaders rushed to telephone India’s new leader-elect, with the head of the country with which India has fought four wars, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, inviting him to visit.
Modi, who has been dogged by accusations of sectarian prejudice, appeared to make an effort to reassure those who fear he will prove a divisive leader.
“To run the country we need to take everyone with us, all together, and I seek your blessings to succeed in this endeavor,” he said.
The former tea seller who started his political career with a far right Hindu revivalist organization and has been chief minister of Gujarat State since 2001, promised “good times ahead.”
In a second speech hours later, Modi invoked Mahatma Gandhi and stressed that “the only solution to every problem is [economic] development — without which India’s destiny will not change.”
Though a BJP win was expected, few predicted such a crushing victory. For 25 years, India has been governed by coalitions, but the size of Modi’s mandate means he will not have to work with allies and can set his own agenda. The BJP’s strength among India’s states means he can push through new measures despite a relative weakness in the upper house of parliament. The party’s regional strength is likely to be reinforced at local elections in coming months.
Supporters, who thronged the BJP headquarters in Delhi on Friday to sing, explode firecrackers, bang drums and chant support for Modi, said he would bring honest government, efficient administration and much-needed economic reforms to the troubled nation.
“I am elated. It’s time for change,” 28-year-old student Gautam Sood said.
The elections saw about 100 million first-time voters cast a ballot.
Modi’s “Development For All” message appeared to have struck a chord with frustrated voters, particularly the young. It also countered accusations of sectarian prejudice, allowing BJP campaigners to argue that they believe in genuine equality because the party wants no communities to receive special treatment.
At Congress’ headquarters, the mood was very different.