NEW DELHI - The leader of India's Bharatiya Janata Party, Narendra Modi, claimed victory Friday as the right-wing Hindu nationalist party headed for the country's biggest election victory in the last 30 years.
With the ruling Congress Party conceding defeat, Modi is poised to take charge of the world’s largest democracy as the Bharatiya Janata Party returns to its leadership role after 10 years.
At a news conference, party chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul - who led campaigning - personally took responsibility for the loss.
The Congress party was hit by a series of high-profile corruption scandals, high inflation and lagging economic growth.
The five-week election wrapped up Monday, with the final polls closing in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and the eastern states of West Bengal and Bihar. Early results show the BJP winning the first one-party parliamentary majority in 30 years. That would mean it could create a government without forming a coalition with regional leaders.
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In preliminary results, the United Progressive Alliance led by the Gandhi family's Congress party, which has ruled India for the last decade, was leading in just 67 seats, its worst showing ever.
BJP supporters celebrate
Outside the BJP headquarters here, the street resembled a carnival. Jubilant supporters danced, set off firecrackers and distributed sweets.
Modi, the future prime minister, tweeted, “India has won. Good times ahead.”
India has won! भारत की विजय। अच्छे दिन आने वाले हैं।— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 16, 2014
That was the centerpiece of the regional leader’s appeal to the country. Modi, who has headed western Gujarat state, led an unprecedented presidential-style campaign and won over voters with his mantra of development, strong leadership and cleaner government.
Rajnath Singh, BJP president, called the vote the beginning of a new era. He said all sections of society had supported the party’s positive agenda.
“It is people’s mandate for change,” Singh said. “Time(s) has now come to rewrite the Indian success story.”
The scale of the victory gives India a strong government with a clear parliamentary majority, ending the dependency of successive coalition governments on regional allies. Stock markets soared at the prospect of stability and a business-friendly administration.
In a country restless for economic revival and better governance, BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad says economic growth will be his party’s first priority.
“I have rarely seen this overwhelming desire for change in the persona of Narendra Modi,” Prasad said. “… The first thing would be to restore people’s confidence in the economy by better governance.”
A return to power
It will be the BJP’s second stint in office; the party was voted out after six years in office in 2004. But with a majority in parliament, and the Congress Party decimated, it comes to office with greater strength.
Political observers attribute BJP’s victory to two factors: the hope of better times, which Modi has generated, and a strong desire for change from Congress rule, which was tainted by corruption, rising prices and a weakening economy.
Voters believed Modi offered a change, said Sanjay Kumar, a professor at the Center for Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi.
“People had an image or kind of faith that this is a man who can do development, this is a man who has a vision, who is a strong ruler … but clearly the ground was laid by the misgovernance of the Congress in the last three years,” Kumar said. “People were not only unhappy, there was huge anger against the ruling UPA government.”
Modi’s critics remain uneasy about how the Hindu nationalist leader will govern a diverse nation with many religious minorities. As governor of Gujarat state, he was criticized for his handling of Hindu-Muslim rioting that killed more than 1,000 people in 2002. India’s Supreme Court cleared Modi of charges that he incited the violence.
The controversy appears to have faded for many voters. Modi has since cast himself as an able administrator and decisive leader who has energized the economy of Gujarat and holds the promise of doing the same for the rest of the country.
Gandhi influence fades
There was huge anticipation on vote-counting day. People follow TV reports of election results as closely as they do a high-stakes cricket match.
While celebrations continued nonstop for the BJP, the New Delhi headquarters of the Congress Party wore a desolate look. Congress Party leaders conceded defeat early. The “grand old party,” which has ruled India for more than 50 years, was not just voted out - it was decimated. That is likely to raise questions about its continued reliance for leadership on the Gandhi political dynasty.