Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Modi celebrates landslide win in India, but challenges remain

PM-elect was greeted by roaring crowds Saturday outside the BJP's offices in New Delhi

Indian prime minister-elect Narendra Modi celebrated his resounding election win with a victory parade in New Delhi on Saturday, flashing a victory sign to his supporters and stating that the landslide result had “created a new confidence among people."

Results announced Friday from the weeks-long polls showed that Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won the most decisive election victory India has seen in three decades, sweeping the once-dominant Congress party from power.

Modi was greeted by roaring crowds outside the BJP's offices in New Delhi, where he met with top leaders of his party to discuss the formation of a new government. Modi's victory lap also saw him head to Varanasi, the town on the banks of the Ganges river that is revered by millions of devout Hindus.

The BJP offices in the heart of the capital were adorned with garlands while supporters blew conch shells, which traditionally mark the start of most Hindu rituals. As he walked toward the office, Modi was showered with rose petals.

Modi pulled off a mandate of staggering proportions, leaving him unfettered to pursue the agenda of economic revival and development that propelled him to victory. What remains to be seen is how quickly Modi, who has ruled the western state of Gujarat since 2001, can match the enormous expectations he has created in an electorate that is hungry for change.

"One might envy Narendra Modi his awesome electoral victory yesterday. But the challenges he faces as India's 17th prime minister are scarcely enviable," Mohan Guruswamy, an economist long associated with the BJP, wrote in The Citizen, an online journal.

Indeed, his own party tried to strike a note of caution amid the euphoria of the win.

"Our promises will be fulfilled within the five-year mandate that we have been given," close Modi aide and BJP General Secretary Amit Shah told New Delhi Television channel, brushing aside questions on what the party's agenda in the first 100 days in office would be.

"Narendra Modi should go for the low-hanging fruits first," said Gurcharan Das, the former head of Procter & Gamble in India. "He gets the job done. There are so many projects that are stuck at various stages. If he gets a group of talented people, gives the bureaucracy a sense of purpose and clarity of what he wants, that will be the quickest way to start executing projects."

Singh resigns as PM

For most of the past two years, Modi, 63, has worked relentlessly to market himself as the one leader capable of waking this nation of 1.2 billion from its economic slumber, while trying to shake off allegations that he looked the other way amid communal riots in his home state in 2002 that killed 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.

Modi, a Hindu nationalist who critics fear will be divisive and autocratic, and the BJP wiped out a Congress party that had dominated Indian politics for all but a decade since the country gained freedom from British rule in 1947. 

Saturday's victory celebration came a day after the party crossed the 272-seat majority needed to create a government without forming a coalition with smaller parties. By Saturday morning, of the 536 seats declared, the BJP had won 280 and led in two more. Congress won 43 seats and led in one other in the 543-strong Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament.

Modi's win ends an era of shaky coalition governments, giving him ample room to advance economic modernization, which started 23 years ago by Manmohan Singh, the outgoing prime minister, but which has stalled in recent years. Modi is expected to try to replicate his success in attracting investment and building infrastructure in Gujarat, the state he has governed for more than 12 years.

Singh met with President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday and gave him his resignation. Singh defended his decade-long record, the finals years of which were marked by slowing economic growth as his government struggled to overcome charges of weak leadership and corruption.

"Today India is a far stronger country than it was a decade ago," he said in a short and typically low-key speech. "I give you credit for it. We still need to work hard to take this country forward."

Jobs and development

In comments after the landslide win was confirmed, Modi vowed to start work on his agenda immediately and thanked voters for giving him a clear mandate. The last time any single party won a majority in India was in 1984, when the Congress party swept more than 400 seats following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. 

But 30 years later, India is now in the midst of rapid socio-economic change. About 13 million young people are entering the job market each year, but not enough jobs are being created in an economy that has slowed down to below 5 percent in the last two years. Prices of food have spiraled, as has unemployment.

For voters, jobs and development were their main priority, and after having promised them that, Modi's real challenge lies ahead.

The BJP has promised to change tough labor laws that make foreign manufacturers reluctant to set up factories in India. Manufacturing makes up only 15 percent of India's economy, compared to 31 percent in China. Attracting manufacturing investment is key to creating jobs, and foreign investors have been pouring billions of dollars into Indian stocks and bonds in anticipation of a Modi victory.

The new government will take office sometime after the party's newly elected lawmakers formally appoint Modi as prime minister on May 20, but no date has been set, BJP President Rajnath Singh told reporters.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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