Modi magnanimous in maiden speech

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iol news pic may16 India Elections~70 AP Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and India's next prime minister Narendra Modi receives a giant floral garland from supporters after his landslide victory in Vadodara, in the western Indian state of Gujarat. (AP Photo/ Dharmesh Jobanputra)

Vadodora, India/New Delhi - Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi said on Friday he would work for the good of all Indians in his maiden address as the country's prime minister-elect, hours after his opposition party scored a resounding general election win.

The dramatic victory by Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was the first time a single party has won a majority in India's parliament for three decades.

Yet he is a polarising figure, who supporters say will revive the country's slowing economy but critics believe has Hindu supremacist views that could alienate minorities including the sizeable Muslim community.

Celebratory fire crackers were set off across broad swathes of the subcontinent, from the financial capital Mumbai in the west to the tropical east and Modi's sun-baked home state of Gujarat.

Thousands of people dressed in saffron orange, the party's official colour and a shade associated with Hinduism, packed into the main square of Vadodara, Modi's constituency and a city in Gujarat. A music troupe sang patriotic songs as people filled the streets and waved orange scarves from rooftops.

“I want to tell my fellow Indians that in letter and spirit I will take all Indians with me,” the usually stern Modi said, flashing broad smiles throughout his address and wearing a checked beige and white tunic.

“This is our aim, and I will not leave any stone unturned.”

His comments appeared to be aimed at quelling concerns among India's Muslims, numbering some 175 million, that he would be biased against them.

Many Muslims still mistrust Modi due to an outbreak of religious violence on his watch as chief minister of Gujarat in 2002 that left at least 1 000 people dead. He has not fully explained why he was unable to stop the violence, although a Supreme Court inquiry found no evidence to prosecute him.

Some Muslims seem to have put the past behind them, however, with the BJP set to win in half of the Indian constituencies that are home to large Muslim minorities.

The BJP had won or was leading in 282 seats in India's lower house of parliament, over the 272-seat mark needed for a majority, election commission data at 1630 GMT showed. An alliance led by the party was ahead in 339 seats, television channel NDTV said.

Sonia Gandhi, president of the beleaguered ruling Congress party, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif all congratulated Modi on his win.

India's election commission is due to release final results late on Friday.

Modi also struck a conciliatory tone toward political rivals, and said he would work with opposition parties.

The BJP will not need allies to form a government, but it will have to call on outside support to pass laws in the upper house, where it only has around one fifth of seats.

“The election period is over and it is time to put the heat and dust behind,” Modi said on Friday. “I hope I will get the support of everyone, including my opponents.”

On the leafy main road outside the BJP's national office in New Delhi, drummers in leopard-print robes, circus performers on stilts and painted elephants performed for hundreds of cheering and dancing revelers.

Rows of fire crackers were set off and coloured powder filled the air.

Celebrations also took place in India's financial capital Mumbai, where BJP flags were mounted on toy aeroplanes, and in Gujarat's state capital Gandhinagar, where crowds swarmed around Modi's car after he visited his mother's house in a working class neighbourhood.

“Modi is a great personality. Once you hear him speak, you are drawn to him,” said Surendra Tadi, a 34-year-old electrical engineer who had left his home in Noida, a satellite city of Delhi, at 6.30 a.m. to travel to the party's headquarters.

Tadi wore a t-shirt bearing a large picture of Modi and the slogan “I Modified India.” The frenetic crowd around him consisted mostly of young men in Modi masks and hats made of saffron cloth.

The BJP shindigs were in sharp contrast to the scene at the Congress office in New Delhi, which was so deserted that birds could be heard chirping.

Congress had won or was leading in just 44 seats, the worst ever result for the dynastic party that has defined Indian politics for almost 70 years.

Few Congress workers were in the office, save for a brief flurry of activity in the afternoon when Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul showed up to utter a few sentences on their defeat..

Reuters



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