Modi receives hero’s welcome after election victory

India’s next prime minister cheered on the streets of New Delhi following emphatic win

India’s next prime minister Narendra Modi, gestures towards supporters from his car upon his arrival at the airport in New Delhi today. Photograph: Reuters

India’s next prime minister Narendra Modi, gestures towards supporters from his car upon his arrival at the airport in New Delhi today. Photograph: Reuters

Sat, May 17, 2014, 09:40

Thousands of cheering supporters have welcomed India’s next prime minister on his arrival in the capital after leading his party to a staggering victory in national elections.

Narendra Modi flashed a victory sign as he drove past jubilant supporters outside the New Delhi airport.

He is scheduled to meet leaders of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to discuss the formation of a new government.

The BJP wiped out the Congress party that has long dominated the country’s politics.

The victory parade comes 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 517 seats declared, the BJP had won 278 seats and led in four more.

Mr Modi, a career politician whose campaign promised a revival of economic growth, will have a strong mandate to govern at a time of profound changes in Indian society.

He also has said he wants to strengthen India’s strategic partnership with the United States.

But critics worry the rise of his Hindu nationalist party could worsen sectarian tensions with India’s minority 138 million Muslims.

The results were a crushing defeat for the Congress party, which is deeply entwined with the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty that has been at the centre of Indian politics for most of the country’s post-independence history.

The government, led by outgoing prime minister Manmohan Singh, has been plagued by repeated corruption scandals and a poor economy.

As his overwhelming win became clear yesterday, Mr Modi appeared before a crowd of cheering supporters and tried to strike a conciliatory note.

“I have always said that to govern the nation it is our responsibility to take everyone with us,” he said after a lengthy and punishing race.

“I want your blessings so that we can run a government that carries everyone with it.”

Nevertheless, Mr Modi remains a divisive figure in the country of 1.2 billion people, in large part because he, as chief minister of Gujarat state, was in command in 2002 when communal rioting there killed more than 1,000 people — most of them Muslims.

Mr Modi was accused of doing little to stop the rampage, though he denies any wrongdoing and has never been charged with a crime.

He was denied a US visa in 2005 for alleged complicity in the riots, although as prime minister he would be virtually assured a visa.

On Friday, President Barack Obama called Mr Modi to congratulate him on his victory and invited him “to visit Washington at a mutually agreeable time to further strengthen our bilateral relationship”, the White House said.

In India, the question now is whether Mr Modi can be a truly secular leader in a country with many faiths.

The Congress party tried to highlight the 2002 riots during the campaign, but Mr Modi’s momentum — and laser focus on the ailing economy — carried him to victory.

There was a record turnout in the election, with 66.38 per cent of India’s 814 million eligible voters casting ballots during the six-week contest, which began on April 7th and was held in stages across the country.