Modi strikes conciliatory note after landslide win

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre) being presented with a garland by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in New Delhi yesterday. By late yesterday evening, Mr Modi's BJP-led alliance was ahead in 351 out of 542 seats. He is only the third prime
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre) being presented with a garland by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in New Delhi yesterday. By late yesterday evening, Mr Modi's BJP-led alliance was ahead in 351 out of 542 seats. He is only the third prime minister in India's history to retain power after a full term.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indian PM vows to build strong and inclusive country after bitter campaign

Seeking to unify the country after a bitter election campaign, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to build a "strong and inclusive India" as he stormed back to power with a landslide win that saw his party expand its influence to new corners of the country.

By late yesterday evening, Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance was ahead in 351 out of 542 seats.

On its own steam, the BJP had won or was leading in 302 seats, doing even better than in 2014, when it won 282 seats in the Lower House of Parliament.

Its main rival, the Congress party, only marginally improved its tally from 44 seats to leading in 52 in these current elections.

BJP workers were seen dancing and distributing sweets to celebrate the victory which makes Mr Modi only the third prime minister in India's history to retain power after a full term and the first BJP leader to return for a second term.

Promising to work even with the opposition parties that won some of the state elections held alongside the national polls, Mr Modi said: "The central government will cooperate with the state governments to develop India."

His voice hoarse from days of campaigning, Mr Modi struck a humble note as he spoke to supporters at his party's headquarters late in the evening, saying: "I may make mistakes, but my intentions will never be bad."

The BJP managed to expand its sphere of influence from its traditional bastions in northern and central India to the eastern state of West Bengal, where it was closely tracking regional powerhouse Trinamool Congress. In southern India, the party made a mark in Karnataka, where it was leading in 25 of 28 seats, and in Telangana, where it picked up four seats, up from one seat in 2014, while regional and opposition parties dominated the other three states there.

Overall, the opposition parties were reeling after Congress president Rahul Gandhi was defeated in his traditional family stronghold of Amethi by BJP's Ms Smriti Irani.

The seat has been held by a member of the Gandhi-Nehru family for decades. Mr Gandhi did win in Wayanad constituency in Kerala.

"I want to congratulate Mr Modi. My fight with Mr Modi is about ideology," said Mr Gandhi, who added that his party would decide on his future as a leader.

Dr Sandeep Shastri, pro-vice-chancellor of Jain University, saw the BJP's victory as a clear en-dorsement of Mr Modi and the inability of the opposition to get its act together.

"The Congress will need deep introspection about strategy and leadership if it is to continue to stay relevant in the coming years," he said.

Mr Modi, 68, cruised to an easy win in his constituency of Varanasi.

The BJP successfully kept the focus away from jobs and the farm crisis, and capitalised on a nationalist fervour that deepened following the outbreak of hostilities with Pakistan over the killing of 40 Indian soldiers in Kashmir in February.

Mr Modi's win boosted finan-cial markets, with the benchmark Sensex shooting to an all-time high of 40,000 points before retreating slightly.

Investors expect the government to continue to pursue economic reforms that had taken a backseat.

"Hopefully, the majority win will allow the Prime Minister to undertake policy measures to provide stimulus to the economy," said Mr Rishi Sahai, managing director and co-founder of Cogence Advisors.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2019, with the headline 'Modi strikes conciliatory note after landslide win'. Print Edition | Subscribe