Narendra Modi, India's PM-elect, receives hero's welcome in Delhi

Hundreds of flag-waving Bharatiya Janata party supporters celebrate at capital's airport after landslide election victory

India's prime minister-elect, Narendra Modi, basked in a hero's welcome as he arrived in Delhi after a historic election victory by the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) which transformed the political landscape of the world's largest democracy.

A brass band, drummers and bagpipes played while hundreds of supporters waving BJP flags met Modi at the capital's airport on Saturday after his address to voters in the western state of Gujarat on Friday night.

With almost all 543 seats declared by Saturday morning, Modi's BJP looked set to win 282 seats, 10 more than the majority required to rule, and was heading for a tally of about 337 with its allied parties. The BJP said he will not formally take office until after Tuesday.

In his first speech after winning the landslide victory, the Hindu nationalist leader pledged to work for all 1.25 billion of his fellow Indians.

"The age of divisive politics has ended – from today onwards the politics of uniting people will begin," Modi, 63, told a crowd of ecstatic supporters on Friday.

Narendra Modi supporters dance as they wait for the BJP leader to arrive in Delhi
Dancers perform as Modi supporters wait for the BJP leader to arrive in Delhi. Photograph: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images Photograph: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

"Brothers, sisters, you have faith in me and I have faith in you," he said. "The people of this country have given their verdict. This verdict says we have to make the dreams of 1.25 billion people come true. I must work hard."

Modi's victory for the BJP closes a chapter of coalition governments that began with the 1989 elections, after the assassination of the Congress party prime minister Indira Gandhi five years earlier. It also signals the end of an era dominated by the descendants of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister.

Describing himself as a worker Modi is the son of a tea-stall owner and an outsider to Delhi political circles. "Four to five generations have been wasted since 1952. This victory has been achieved after that," Modi said, in a jibe at the Nehru-Gandhi family and the Congress party it dominates.

In a televised speech the outgoing prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said he was confident about the future of India. He said: "I firmly believe that the emergence of India as a major powerhouse of the evolving global economy is an idea whose time has come."

World leaders have rushed to phone the new premier. Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister of neighbouring Pakistan, with which India has fought four wars, invited Modi to visit.

The US president, Barack Obama, did likewise, even though Modi was barred from the country less than 10 years ago under a law preventing entry to foreigners who had committed "particularly severe violations of religious freedom".

Modi, who has been dogged by accusations of sectarian prejudice, has tried to reassure those within India and beyond its borders who fear he will prove a divisive leader, promising "good times ahead" for India.

"To run the country we need to take everyone with us, all together and I seek your blessings to succeed in this endeavour," he said.

Though a BJP win was expected, few predicted such a crushing victory. The size of Modi's mandate means he will not have to work with allies and can set his own agenda, with the party's regional strength likely to be reinforced at local elections in coming months.

About 100 million voters cast a ballot for the first time. Support among the young appears to be a key reason for the BJP's success. Another is inroads made into rural areas and traditional "votebanks" of the Congress party, such as those at the bottom of the caste system.

Since being named as his party's candidate last September, Modi has flown more than 185,000 miles and addressed 457 rallies in a slick presidential-style campaign that has broken the mould of Indian politics.

A huge social media effort has reached out to voters across the nation. Modi received more than seven times the media coverage of his chief rival, one study showed.

Modi's "Development For All" message appeared to have struck a chord with frustrated voters, particularly the young, across the nation.

It also countered accusations of sectarian prejudice, allowing BJP campaigners to argue that they believed in genuine equality because the party wants no communities to receive special treatment.

A Delhi resident reads a newspaper with the BJP’s election victory on the front
A Delhi resident reads a morning paper after the BJP’s landslide victory. Photograph: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images Photograph: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

At the Congress headquarters, only a mile from those of the BJP, there was a very different mood. "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.

The outgoing government was hit by allegations of corruption, its failure to rein in runaway inflation and faltering growth. India needs to create 10m jobs each year for new jobseekers alone, an area where the Congress officials admit they had difficulty. Others blamed the defeat on a failure to communicate the party's achievements in their 10 years in power.

At a chaotic press conference late on Friday afternoon, Sonia Gandhi, the president of Congress, admitted the party had done "pretty badly" and accepted responsibility for its worst ever defeat.

She called on the new government to avoid divisive policies and said her own party would focus on grassroots work. Gandhi held her constituency of Rae Bareli, an exception in a rout of dozens of senior Congress figures.


Martin Williams and Jason Burke

The GuardianTramp

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