Opposition leader sweeps into power in India

Bystanders and the media surrounded the vehicle of Narendra Modi as he left his mother’s home in Gandhinagar, India.
Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images
Bystanders and the media surrounded the vehicle of Narendra Modi as he left his mother’s home in Gandhinagar, India.

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 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.

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After midnight in Delhi, the Election Commission declared that the Bharatiya Janata Party 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 underway. Drummers, stilt-walkers, and women in colorful saris converged at Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters in Delhi, where party workers had laid out 100,000 laddoos, the ball-shaped sweets that are ubiquitous at Indian celebrations.

Surinder Singh Tiwana, a 40-year-old lawyer, was among the revelers. “I can equate my jubilation today, probably, to my mother’s on the day I was born,” Tiwana said. “This is a huge change for our country, a change of guard. A billion-plus people have announced their mandate in no uncertain terms. They have voted for a progressive, stable government.”

Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent to the political dynasty that has formed the Congress party’s backbone, appeared to have only narrowly won reelection 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 that 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.”

The elections came during a period of rapid transition in Indian society, as urbanization and economic growth break down generations-old voting patterns. With his conservative ideology and steely style of leadership, Modi, who came from a humble background and rose through the ranks of a Hindu nationalist group, will prove a stark departure from his predecessors in that office.

In his speech, Modi hinted at expectations of political longevity, saying that 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 to 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 that 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. Last summer, when Modi’s campaigners insisted that the Bharatiya Janata Party could win the 272 seats necessary to form a government, the ambition seemed far-fetched.

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.