Modi Tells India’s Hindu Heartland He’s Doing God’s Work
Incoming Indian leader Narendra Modi told thousands of supporters in one of Hinduism’s holiest cities that he represented a break from past governments after winning the nation’s biggest electoral mandate in 30 years.
“There’s a lot of work that god has put me on this earth for,” Modi said yesterday on the banks of the Ganges River in Varanasi, his constituency, after attending a prayer service at a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and transformation. “A lot of it is dirty work, but I am up to the task.”
Thousands of people threw rose petals at Modi’s convoy as it made its way through the streets of Varanasi, with onlookers and security officials taking pictures. Earlier, Modi greeted supporters in New Delhi, where his Bharatiya Janata Party said it would nominate him formally for prime minister this week.
The outcome, which saw Modi trounce the Gandhi dynasty, boosted stocks and the rupee as investors bet a stable government would make changes needed to bolster growth in the world’s largest democracy. While Modi’s opponents accused him of inflaming tensions between Hindus and a Muslim minority that stem from the country’s founding in 1947, on the campaign trail he pledged to revive Asia’s third-biggest economy.
“People want growth, people want jobs, people want low inflation and people want less corruption,” said S. Narayan, a visiting senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore. “That’s the message from this mandate.”
On the bank of the Ganges, Modi and other BJP leaders performed a ceremony called “aarti,” the final ritual of a Hindu prayer that is conducted as a reminder that god is at the center of life. Modi softly clapped his hands while listening to Hindu hymns on a stage decorated with marigold garlands.
Modi, who had sacred sandalwood paste smeared on his forehead, referred to the river as “Mother Ganges,” which Hindus consider holy. The devout believe bathing in the Ganges cleanses sins.
Modi returned to New Delhi last night and today held meetings with BJP leaders in the capital, the Press Trust of India reported, without saying where it got the information. The Election Commission of India will submit a list of the newly elected members of parliament to the president at 6.30 p.m., PTI reported separately, citing Venu Rajamony, a presidential spokesman.
The BJP and its allies won 336 of 543 seats up for grabs, more than the 272 needed for a majority, Election Commission data showed. The Congress group won 59 seats, the worst performance for the party that has governed India for most of its history. Smaller regional parties took 148 seats.
The BJP itself won 282 seats, the biggest victory for a single party since Congress got 404 seats in 1984 in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The BJP-led bloc received 37 percent of 551 million ballots cast, compared with 23 percent for the Congress group and 40 percent for smaller regional parties, vote tallies show.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in a farewell address yesterday, wished Modi success and called on the nation to respect the results. Singh resigned shortly after, capping a 10-year run as India’s prime minister, the third-longest tenure in the country’s history.
Rahul Gandhi, the son, grandson and great grandson of Indian prime ministers, took responsibility for the defeat.
“Congress party has done pretty badly,” Gandhi, 43, said May 16 in New Delhi as he stood alongside his mother, Sonia Gandhi, the party president. “There is a lot for us to think about.”
The strong mandate spurred optimism that India would lead a recovery among the biggest emerging markets. During the campaign, the BJP lambasted Congress for jobless growth, promising in its manifesto to stem Asia’s second-fastest price gains and expedite foreign investment in most sectors except for multibrand retail.
Modi’s power in parliament won’t be unchecked. While the BJP and its allies will have a majority in the lower house, they have only 61 of the 245 members in the upper house, where seats are distributed based on the strength of parties in state assemblies. The upper house must approve major legislation related to tax, foreign investment and constitutional changes.
India’s rupee surged past 59 per dollar on May 16 for the first time since July, while the S&P BSE Sensex (SENSEX) increased 0.9 percent to a record after swinging between a gain of 6.15 percent and a loss of 0.1 percent.
Modi, the son of a tea seller, is favored by business leaders because of his record in Gujarat, the state he’s governed since 2001, which has attracted companies such as Tata Motors Ltd. The state’s per capita income nearly quadrupled during Modi’s tenure to 61,220 rupees ($1,040), rising at a faster pace than the national average.
Opponents of Modi have said he’ll stoke violence between Hindus and Muslims, which has played a defining role in politics since independence. Modi has been accused of failing to stop riots in Gujarat 12 years ago that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, and had prompted the U.S. to deny him a visa.
He has repeatedly denied the accusations and a Supreme Court-appointed panel found no evidence he gave orders that prevented assistance from reaching those being attacked.
Modi’s bloc won 71 of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state which has more Muslims than any other, breaking the hold of local parties based on caste, a millennia-old social hierarchy in India rooted in Hinduism. The BJP won only 10 seats in the state in the 2009 election.
“The mandate signals the maturing of India’s democracy,” said D.G.A. Khan, who teaches political science at the Banaras Hindu University in Uttar Pradesh. “Voters have backed the message of development instead of the caste preferences and parties who have exploited it for years.”
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at firstname.lastname@example.org Peter Hirschberg