Hindu nationalist Narendra Modihas stormed to victory in
India. REUTERS/Amit Dave
Narendra Modi has thundered to victory in India's
election, trouncing the ruling Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in a
seismic political shift that gives the Hindu nationalist and
his party a mandate for sweeping economic reform.
Modi's landslide, the most resounding election victory India
has seen in 30 years, was welcomed with a blistering rally on
India's stock markets and raucous celebrations at offices
across the country of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), where
supporters danced, let off fireworks and handed out sweets.
The BJP looked certain of a parliamentary majority, giving
the 63-year-old former tea-seller ample room to advance
reforms started 23 years ago by current Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh but which stalled in recent years.
Speaking to a sea of people dressed in the party's official
orange colours and chanting his name in his home state of
Gujarat, Modi thanked the nation, and immediately addressed
concerns his pro-Hindu leanings would sideline minorities.
"The age of divisive politics has ended, from today onwards
the politics of uniting people will begin," Modi said. "We
want more strength for the wellbeing of the country ... I see
a glorious and prosperous India."
Singh's Congress party suffered its worst wipeout, a big
boost to Modi's goal of ending the dominance of the
Nehru-Gandhi family that has governed for most of the 67
years of independent India.
Singh, whose party looked set to win less than 50 of the 543
parliamentary seats at stake, congratulated Modi with a
telephone call. Party president Sonia Gandhi and her son
Rahul quickly conceded defeat.
The desire for change has been so strong that voters put
aside concerns about Modi's Hindu-centric politics.
"India's economy was in the doldrums. We have hope that he'll
lift up the economy, that he'll create jobs," said Shailesh
Jha, 29, embracing a jubilant group of friends at the BJP's
Jha echoed the sentiment of those who believed Modi's
promises of economic growth to meet the demands of millions
of youngsters who reach working age each year and could boost
India's productivity if given jobs.
With more than six times the seats of its closest rival,
Modi's is the most decisive mandate for a leader since the
1984 assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi propelled
her son to office. Since 1989, India has been governed by
By 10 p.m. (1630 GMT), the BJP had won or was winning in 282
seats in parliament, counting trends showed, comfortably
across the halfway mark of 272 required to rule. An alliance
led by the party was ahead in 340 seats, TV channel NDTV
In Washington, the Obama administration congratulated Modi
and the BJP and said he would be granted a visa for U.S.
travel. Washington denied Modi a visa in 2005 over sectarian
riots in Gujarat three years earlier, when he had just become
chief minister of the state. More than 1,000 people, most of
them Muslims, were killed.
Responding to the news, Indian markets got off to a roaring
start, with the rupee breaking below 59 to the U.S. dollar,
an 11-month high, and the benchmark stock index jumping 6
percent to a record high before paring its gains.
Betting on a Modi win, foreign investors have poured more
than $16 billion into Indian stocks and bonds in the past six
months and now hold over 22 percent of Mumbai-listed equities
- a stake estimated by Morgan Stanley at almost $280 billion.
Unlike his predecessors, Modi will not have to deal with
unruly partners as he implements reform. That could usher in
profound economic changes, with some supporters imagining him
as India's answer to Margaret Thatcher.
He will try to replicate his success in attracting investment
and building infrastructure in Gujarat, the state he has
governed for more than 12 years.
"He can afford to have a smaller but stronger cabinet, that
means a far more decisive government. He has been saying less
government and more governance, we are really likely to see
that," said Navneet Munot, chief investment officer at SBI
Funds Management in Mumbai.
But with India's economy suffering its worst slowdown since
the 1980s and battling high inflation, it will not be an easy
task to meet the hopes of millions of Indians who have bought
into the idea that Modi will quickly push their country onto
the top table of global economic powers.
His party also lacks strength in the upper house of
parliament, where backing is needed for legislation to pass.
"It's important to be realistic about how quickly they can
instigate change. It takes time to, number one, get economic
reforms through the political machinery and, number two, it
also takes a while before economic reforms actually have a
positive impact," said Leif Eskesen, an economist at HSBC in
India's election was the world's largest. Staggered over five
weeks, a record of more than 500 million ballots were cast
from the Himalayas in the north to the tropical south, with
voters braving blistering heat for a record 66 percent
Since being named as his party's candidate in September, Modi
has flown 300,000 km (186,000 miles) and addressed 457
rallies in a slick, presidential-style campaign that broke
the mould of Indian politics.
Modi contrasted his humble roots with the cloistered life of
privilege of his dynastic rivals.
He ran circles around his slow-footed opponent Rahul Gandhi,
43, from the Congress party which his family has dominated
since his great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, led India to
independence from Britain in 1947.
Rahul, his Italian-born mother, Sonia, beside him, shouldered
blame for their party's rout.
"The Congress has done pretty badly, there is a lot for us to
think about. As vice president of the party I hold myself
Both mother and son held onto their own seats, but these were
the only ones their party clinched in the crucial state of
Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 lawmakers to parliament.
Prime Minister Singh launched reforms in 1991 as finance
minister that opened India's socialist economy to global
capital, but his spell in the top job ended marred by
corruption and a floundering economy amid mounting policy
paralysis. He has already bid farewell to his staff after 10
years in office.
The dark chapter of violence against Muslims that occurred on
Modi's watch in Gujarat has mattered less and less to many,
including a ballooning middle class alarmed by dwindling
purchasing power and job opportunities as the economy slumped
to sub-five percent growth in the last two years.
Modi has promised that, if elected, he would take decisive
action to unblock stalled investments in power, road and rail
projects to revive economic growth.