NEW DELHI: Narendra Modi thundered to victory Friday in India’s election, trouncing the ruling Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in a seismic political shift that gives the Hindu nationalist and his party a mandate for sweeping economic reform.
Modi’s landslide, the most resounding election victory India has seen in 30 years, was welcomed with a blistering rally on India’s stock markets and raucous celebrations at offices across the country of his Bharatiya Janata Party, where supporters danced, set off fireworks and handed out sweets.
The BJP looked certain of a parliamentary majority, giving the 63-year-old former tea-seller ample room to advance reforms started 23 years ago by current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but which have stalled in recent years.
Speaking to a sea of people dressed in the party’s official orange color and chanting his name in his home state of Gujarat, Modi thanked the nation and immediately addressed concerns his pro-Hindu leanings would sideline minorities.
“The age of divisive politics has ended, from today onward the politics of uniting people will begin,” Modi said. “We want more strength for the wellbeing of the country. ... I see a glorious and prosperous India.”
Singh’s Congress party suffered its worst ever wipeout, a big boost to Modi’s goal of ending the dominance of the Nehru-Gandhi family that has governed for most of the 67 years of independent India.
Singh, whose party looked set to win less than 50 of the 543 parliamentary seats at stake, congratulated Modi with a telephone call. Party president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul quickly conceded defeat.
With more than six times the seats of its closest rival, Modi’s is the most decisive mandate for a leader since the 1984 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi propelled her son to office. Since 1989, coalitions have governed India.
By 10 p.m. (1630 GMT), the BJP had won or was winning in 282 seats in Parliament, counting trends showed, comfortably across the halfway mark of the 272 required to rule. An alliance led by the party was ahead in 340 seats, television channel NDTV said.
Responding to the news, Indian markets got off to a roaring start, with the rupee breaking below 59 to the U.S. dollar, an 11-month high, and the benchmark stock index jumping 6 percent to a record high before paring its gains.
Betting on a Modi win, foreign investors have poured more than $16 billion into Indian stocks and bonds in the past six months and now hold over 22 percent of Mumbai-listed equities – a stake estimated by Morgan Stanley at almost $280 billion.
Unlike his predecessors, Modi will not have to deal with unruly partners as he implements reform. That could usher in profound economic changes, with some supporters imagining him as India’s answer to Margaret Thatcher.
He will try to replicate his success in attracting investment and building infrastructure in Gujarat, the state he has governed for more than 12 years.
“He can afford to have a smaller but stronger Cabinet, that means a far more decisive government. He has been saying less government and more governance, we are really likely to see that,” said Navneet Munot, chief investment officer at SBI Funds Management in Mumbai.
But with India’s economy suffering its worst slowdown since the 1980s and battling high inflation, it will not be an easy task to meet the hopes of millions of Indians who have bought into the idea that Modi will quickly push their country onto the top table of global economic powers.
India’s election was the world’s largest ever. Staggered over five weeks, a record of more than 500 million ballots were cast from the Himalayas in the north to the tropical south, with voters braving blistering heat for a record 66 percent turnout.