Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

A changed political scene in India

Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party will be India´s next prime minister.
Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party will be India's next prime minister. SAURABH DAS / AP
NEW DELHI - India's opposition party swept to victory in the country's national election Friday, setting the stage for Hindu nationalist and economic reformer Narendra Modi to become India's next prime minister.

Modi, 63, chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, ran an efficient months-long campaign, spreading his message of hope and revitalization at thousands of rallies across the country. Ultimately, voters overwhelmingly chose his message of change, with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies garnering well over the 272 seats needed for a clear majority in Parliament.

The "Modi wave," as it was called, meant crushing defeat for the governing Congress party and its scion and chief campaigner, Rahul Gandhi, 43. Across the country, voters heading to the polls said they were unhappy with corruption scandals and ineffectual leadership after 10 years of Congress party rule under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

U.S. officials sent congratulations as they tried to smooth over past differences with India and Modi.

"Congrats to @narendramodi and BJP," Secretary of State John Kerry tweeted. "Look forward to working w/you/growing shared prosperity/security w/world's largest democracy."

An ebullient Modi spoke at two victory rallies Friday in his home state of Gujarat, with crowds interrupting his remarks with chants of "Modi, Modi, Modi!" He reveled in the mandate his party had achieved, but pledged an inclusive government for a "shining India" that will make the 21st century "India's century."

"India's social differences will come together and make a flag, just like different threads come together to weave a cloth," Modi said. "People rose above caste rhetoric, a new foundation has been laid and will build a new shining India in the coming days."

Modi, the son of a tea seller from one of India's lower castes, grew visibly emotional when he spoke of the people of his home state, where he grew from a boy in a small village to the four-term chief minister.

"You people of Gujarat are my mother and father. You have raised me. While I serve Mother India, I will also worry about you," he said. "You are my energy, you are my inspiration, you are my strength."

Meanwhile in the capital, New Delhi, Modi's supporters celebrated in the streets, setting off fireworks, dancing, and singing. But the Congress party headquarters was almost deserted, with security officials and media outnumbering workers. The mood was somber.

Gandhi, alongside his mother, Sonia, the party's president, made brief remarks, accepting responsibility for the defeat of the party, which has dominated Indian politics for most of its 128 years.

The new government has "been given a mandate by the people of our country," Gandhi said. "The Congress party has done pretty badly. There is a lot for us to think about."

Gandhi comes from a historic lineage of former prime ministers, but had failed to connect with voters on the campaign trail and performed poorly in major television interviews. He did retain his parliamentary seat representing Amethi, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, that has been a Gandhi family bastion for years.

The United States congratulated Modi without hesitation, appearing to look beyond a past controversy: As Gujarat's chief minister, Modi failed to control riots when the state descended into religious violence more than a decade ago. That led the U.S. to deny Modi a visa in 2005.

But President Obama called Modi, the White House said, and invited him to visit Washington in the future. Obama "looks forward to working closely with Mr. Modi to fulfill the extraordinary promise of the U.S.-India strategic partnership," a statement from the White House said.

Friday's vote count was the culmination of six weeks of voting in a country of 1.2 billion, the world's largest democratic exercise. Turnout was a record 66 percent.

Annie Gowen and Rama Lakshmi Washington Post
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