Modi and BJP roar to power

May 17, 2014 - 1:27:36 am

New Delhi: India’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has won a majority in parliament after official results showed it had crossed the crucial 272-seat mark in the 543-member parliament.

Figures from the Election Commission showed the BJP, led by Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi (pictured), had won 283 constituencies.

BJP exceeded all predictions with an outright majority of the 543 elected seats in the lower house. With its allies seats also included, the BJP projected to win 337.

The last party to win a majority was the left-leaning Congress in 1984 which suffered its worst-ever defeat with a projected 44 seats.

Modi, a four-time chief minister of western Gujarat state and a controversial leader, also won landslide victories in both the constituencies where he was contesting. He is expected to give up one of them.

The 63-year-old secured a seat in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, trouncing his rival, anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal, by 372,000 votes. Modi also left rivals trailing in his other constituency, Vadodara in Gujarat, which he won by more than 570,000 votes.

The results, which hand him a strong mandate, will enable the party to form a government on its own, without seeking the support of any coalition partners, a rarity in India’s fractious political scene. 

Ravi Shankar Prasad, a senior BJP leader, told the Guardian that India would be “a power with dignity, with responsibility and of constitutional integrity” under his party’s rule. A victory on such a scale will prompt some concern internationally. Modi is a polarising figure whom critics accuse of sectarian prejudice and authoritarian tendencies. The scale of his mandate means he will not have to work with allies and will be able to set his own agenda.

Supporters, who thronged the BJP headquarters in Delhi to sing, set off firecrackers, bang drums and chant support for the leader, say he will bring honest government, efficient administration and much-needed economic reforms.

At the Congress party headquarters a different mood prevailed. “It is very disappointing for us all, but we accept the verdict of the people. Congress has bounced back before and we are confident that we will bounce back again,” said Rajeev Shukla, a former minister and senior party official.

Others blamed the defeat on a failure to communicate the party’s achievements in their 10 years in power. “We gave the people growth and so many other things, but an environment was created where people felt nothing was being done,” said spokeswoman Priyanka Chatturvedi. The party has been in power for all but 18 years of the last 67 years.

The outgoing government was hit by corruption allegations, a failure to rein in runaway inflation and faltering growth. India needs to create 10m jobs each year for new jobseekers alone.

Modi and other party officials have promised that a BJP government would take decisive action to unblock stalled investments in power, road and rail projects to revive faltering growth. Indian stockmarkets soared early in the day as results began to come clear.

Modi’s “development for all” message appeared to have struck a chord with frustrated voters, particularly the young.

Since being named as his party’s candidate last September, he has flown 300,000km and addressed 457 rallies in a slick, presidential-style campaign that has broken the mould of Indian politics. A huge social media campaign has reached out to voters across the nation. He received more than seven times the media coverage of his rival Rahul Gandhi, one study showed. As the scale of the victory became clear, Modi sent a message saying “India has won,” which instantly set a record as the country’s most retweeted Twitter post.

Senior BJP officials sought to allay concerns about sectarian prejudice. As the governor of the state of Gujarat, Modi was accused of allowing, or even encouraging, riots in 2002 in which around 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, died. The violence was sparked by an arson attack on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims which killed 59 people. A supreme court investigation found insufficient evidence to support the charges against him and Modi has always denied any wrongdoing.

Relations between India’s 150m Muslims and the Hindu majority became a key theme in the bitterly fought five-week campaign, as candidates traded accusations of seeking to win votes through targeting particular communities or raising sectarian tensions.

Modi watched the results on television alone at his home in Gujarat , and then met his mother, 95-year-old Hiraben, at his brother’s modest government flat in the state capital, Gandhinagar. He touched her feet and she put a red stripe on his forehead as a blessing, while firecrackers exploded outside amid chants of “Modi, Modi”. The former organiser for far-right organisations was later expected to embark on a victory tour to his local constituency of Vadodara, while party workers in New Delhi hoped he would go to there later for what is likely to be a hero’s welcome.

The newly formed Aam Admi, or common man party, which had promised to revolutionise Indian politics and purge corruption from public life, did not make the breakthrough some had hoped for, winning seven seats. Officials said they were pleased. There were also mixed results for India’s female regional leaders.

In Tamil Nadu, chief minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram’s party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), was reported to be leading in 37 of 39 seats. Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal did well but Mayawati Kumar, a key powerbroker in Uttar Pradesh was wiped out. Guardian & Agencies

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