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Originally published Friday, May 16, 2014 at 5:03 PM

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India’s opposition leader sweeps into power

The victory by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party became apparent even before election officials finished counting the 550 million votes cast in the five-week general elections.


The New York Times

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NEW DELHI — India’s opposition leader, Narendra Modi, swept into power as prime minister-elect Friday, as voters delivered a crushing verdict on the corruption scandals and flagging economic growth that have plagued their country in recent years.

In a victory speech in Vadodara, the city in Gujarat state where he won his own parliamentary seat in a landslide, Modi addressed a wild, chanting crowd shortly after the Indian National Congress, which has controlled India’s government for nearly all of its postcolonial history, conceded defeat.

“Brothers and sisters, you have faith in me, and I have faith in you,” Modi said, in remarks that were interrupted several times by the crowd chanting his name. “We have the capacity to fulfill the common man’s aspirations.”

The contours of the victory by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the defeat of the Congress party became clear even before election officials finished counting the 550 million votes cast in the five-week general elections.

After midnight in Delhi, the Election Commission declared the BJP had won 275 seats and was leading in seven more, enough support to form a government without brokering a coalition deal with any of India’s fractious regional leaders. That would give Modi the strongest mandate of any Indian leader since Rajiv Gandhi took office in 1984, riding the wave of sympathy that followed the assassination of his mother, Indira Gandhi.

The celebrations of Modi’s triumph began while the counting was still under way. Drummers, stilt-walkers and women in colorful saris converged at BJP headquarters in Delhi, where party workers had laid out 100,000 laddoos, the ball-shaped sweets that are ubiquitous at Indian celebrations.

Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent to the political dynasty that has formed the Congress party’s backbone, appeared to have only narrowly won re-election Friday in his home constituency, a stronghold that he carried by more than 300,000 votes in 2009. In a humiliation for Gandhi, 43, a group of workers gathered around party headquarters in the capital city, chanting “Bring Priyanka, Save Congress,” a reference to his younger sister, who is seen as a more charismatic politician.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a Congress spokesman, conceded his party had been defeated.

“If the leads are correct, the results are conclusive,” he said in a telephone interview.

Another party spokesman, Randeep Singh Surjewala, also confirmed the loss.

“We humbly accept the verdict of the people of India,” he said. “We shall continue to play with rigor the role of a constructive and meaningful opposition — the role that the people of India have assigned to us.”

In his speech, Modi hinted at expectations of political longevity, saying he had heard even small children using the slogan from his campaign that meant it was his turn to govern.

“They will be coming to take part in elections after 15-16 years,” he said. “We are preparing the new generation also.”

Modi is a regional leader — only the second ever to take the prime minister’s seat — known for maintaining tight control over the bureaucracy and political system in Gujarat, the state he has led for 13 years. His image as a stern, disciplined leader attracted throngs of voters who hope he will crack down on corruption, jump-start India’s flagging economy and create manufacturing jobs.

But his reputation also worries many people. He is blamed by many of India’s Muslims for failing to stop bloody religious riots that raged through his home state in 2002, leaving more than 1,000 people dead. Others fear he will try to quash dissent and centralize authority in a capital that has long been dominated by the Indian National Congress and the liberal internationalists who support it.

After a decade in power, Congress had succeeded in introducing a package of generous new welfare programs for poor and rural Indians, who still make up the majority of the electorate. Congress and its allies had a proven track record of campaigning in India’s villages, in contrast to the BJP, which has long been seen as a party of urban traders.

But Modi seemed to benefit from changes in the electorate. Nearly 100 million new voters were registered ahead of this vote, including an influx of young people, and turnout broke previous records, hitting 66.4 percent.



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