After Huge Win, Next Indian PM Begins Victory Lap
Thousands of people welcomed India's next prime minister in the capital on Saturday after he led his party to a resounding election victory, with Narendra Modi flashing a victory sign to his supporters and telling them that the win "has created a new confidence among people."
Results announced Friday from the weekslong polls showed that Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had won the most decisive election victory India has seen in three decades, sweeping the long-dominant Congress party from power.
On Saturday, Modi was greeted by roaring crowds outside the BJP's offices in New Delhi, where he met with the top leadership of the party to discuss the formation of a new government.
In a country where elections usually result in cacophony and not one single roar, Modi pulled off a mandate of staggering proportions, leaving him unfettered to pursue the agenda of economic revival and development that propelled him to victory.
What remains to be seen is how quickly Modi, who has ruled the western state of Gujarat since 2001, can match the enormous expectations he has created in an electorate that is hungry for change.
"One might envy Narendra Modi his awesome electoral victory yesterday. But the challenges he faces as India's 17th prime minister are scarcely enviable," Mohan Guruswamy, an economist long associated with the BJP, wrote in The Citizen, an online journal.
For most of the past two years, Modi, 63, has worked relentlessly to market himself as the one leader capable of waking this nation of 1.2 billion from its economic slumber, while trying to shake off allegations that he looked the other way amid communal riots in his home state in 2002 that killed 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.
On Saturday, as thousands of people cheered and danced in the streets to welcome him to the capital, it was clear that Modi had managed to win the confidence of a large number of Indians.
Modi and the BJP wiped out a Congress party that had dominated Indian politics for all but a decade since the country gained freedom from British rule in 1947.
Saturday's victory celebration came a day after the party crossed the 272-seat majority needed to create a government without forming a coalition with smaller parties. By Saturday morning, of the 536 seats declared, the BJP had won 280 and led in two more. Congress won 43 seats and led in one other in the 543-strong Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament.
The last time any single party won a majority in India was in 1984, when the Congress party swept more than 400 seats following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
But 30 years later, India is now in the midst of rapid socio-economic change. About 13 million young people are entering the job market each year, but not enough jobs are being created in an economy that has slowed down to below 5 percent in the last two years. Prices of food have spiraled, as has unemployment.
For voters, the priorities in this election were no longer bound by old traditional religious and caste allegiances. Instead, jobs and development were their main priority, and after having promised them that, Modi's real challenge lies ahead.
The BJP has promised to change tough labor laws that make foreign manufacturers reluctant to set up factories in India. Manufacturing makes up only 15 percent of India's economy, compared to 31 percent in China. Attracting manufacturing investment is key to creating jobs, and foreign investors have been pouring billions of dollars into Indian stocks and bonds in anticipation of a Modi victory.
Modi himself looked forward, confidently promising to start work on his agenda quickly and thanking voters for giving him a clear mandate.
A new government will take office sometime after the party's newly elected lawmakers formally appoint Modi as prime minister on May. 20, but no date has been set, BJP President Rajnath Singh told reporters.
Outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday and gave him his resignation.
The BJP offices in the heart of the capital were festooned with garlands made of marigold flowers and multicolored balloons. Supporters blew conch shells, which traditionally mark the start of most Hindu rituals. As he walked toward the office, Modi was showered with rose petals.
Later Saturday, Modi's victory lap was to see him head to Varanasi, the town on the banks of the Ganges river that is revered by millions of devout Hindus.
Amid the euphoria of the win, his own party tried to strike a note of caution.
"Our promises will be fulfilled within the five-year mandate that we have been given," close Modi aide and BJP General Secretary Amit Shah told New Delhi Television channel, brushing aside questions on what the party's agenda in the first 100 days in office would be.
"Narendra Modi should go for the low-hanging fruits first," said Gurcharan Das, the former head of Procter & Gamble in India. "He gets the job done. There are so many projects that are stuck at various stages. If he gets a group of talented people, gives the bureaucracy a sense of purpose and clarity of what he wants, that will be the quickest way to start executing projects."