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Modi gets hero's welcome

India's prime minister-designate Narendra Modi celebrating his landslide victory as he arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi yesterday. The 63-year-old politician from the opposition BJP will be sworn into office in a massive public ceremony within the next two weeks. (AFP)

Publication Date : 18-05-2014

 

India's prime minister-designate Narendra Modi arrived in the national capital to a welcome accorded to conquering heroes, a day after election results delivered his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a landslide that all but wiped out the incumbent Congress party.

Arriving by special aircraft from his home state of Gujarat, Modi was received by thousands of supporters who milled around the entrance of the sprawling Terminal 3 at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport. Many wore Modi masks. Others danced while a few were seen banging on drums and clanging cymbals as a band usually hired for weddings played romantic tunes for the man who lives a bachelor's existence.

In the throng was 23-year-old Yashika Dhurani, a research assistant who waited more than an hour for Modi, whose tireless touring of the country and forceful rhetoric helped create the massive anti- incumbent wave that swept away the Congress party.

"I had been a fence sitter about Modi," said Dhurani. "But I just wanted to see him in person. We have had it with the Congress."

Under tight security cover provided by the Special Protection Group which protects the prime minister, Modi's motorcade made its way slowly to the BJP national headquarters where he was repeatedly given marigold flower garlands and showered with rose petals. Every now and then, the 63-year-old politician leaned out of his car to make a victory sign.

Modi, who started life as a tea seller, is often described as an outsider to Delhi's politics, an inaccurate label given his stint in the national capital as a national secretary of the party for several years. Indeed, many party functionaries who received him at the party office yesterday were those he had personally hired.

Newspapers in the national capital, witnessing a leadership change after a decade, celebrated the victory with headlines such as "TsuNaMo" and "Congress scalded as tea boy brews piping hot win".

Modi savoured another victory overnight when US President Barack Obama called to congratulate and invite him to the United States. In 2005, the US State Department revoked Modi's US visa over the Hindu-Muslim riots three years before in Gujarat state, early in his term as chief minister.

Later in the day, he flew to Varanasi, the town along the Ganges River that is sacred to Hindus and was the second of his constituencies. There, he performed a puja or religious ritual alongside the riverbank.

Modi is expected to retain his Varanasi seat, in part because it is in Uttar Pradesh, the state that sends the largest number of MPs to Parliament. Modi's campaign helped the BJP win a record 73 of the 80 seats from the state and it is an open secret that he will now try to wrest control of the state government, currently run by the Samajwadi Party.

The ruling Congress slumped to 44 seats in the 543-seat Lower House of Parliament, from 206 in the previous House.

Never in its history has it had to face such ignominy, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wasted no time in driving to the presidential palace with the Cabinet's resignation. He has been asked to stay on until Modi is sworn into office in a massive public ceremony within the next two weeks.

In a farewell speech to the nation, Dr Singh drew attention to his own humble origins, much like those of the man who is succeeding him.

"I owe everything to this country, where I, an underprivileged child of the Partition of India, was empowered enough to rise and occupy high office," he said. "It is both a debt that I will never be able to repay and a decoration."

The reverberations of the Modi win were felt in the Hindi heartland state of Bihar.

Yesterday, its chief minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) resigned, taking "moral responsibility" for the party's poor performance. The party won just two of the 40 seats in Bihar, a sharp decline from the 20 it won in 2009.

 

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