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India PM-elect Modi to make triumphant Delhi entrance
17 May, 2014 08:58:41
NEW DELHI, May 16, 2014 (AFP) - India's prime minister-elect Narendra Modi was to make a triumphant entrance to New Delhi Saturday after leading his Hindu nationalist party to an historic landslide victory in the world's largest election.
The former tea-boy, whose humble background is a world away from that of the prevailing Delhi elite, is expected to be greeted by thousands of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters when he flies into the capital to prepare for a five-year stint as premier.

Later he is also expected to pay a visit to Varanasi where he will offer prayers at sundown on the banks of the river Ganges after he was elected for parliament from the holy city.

The 63-year-old, who has never held office at national level, pledged on Friday to fulfil the dreams of all of India's 1.2 billion people in an effort to allay fears that still linger among Muslims who remember communal riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002.

"I want to take all of you with me to take this country forward... it is my responsibility to take all of you with me to run this country," Modi said in what was effectively a farewell speech to the people of Gujarat after a 13-year stint as its chief minister.

Reflecting his long-running theme that the world's second most populous country must make itself a force to be reckoned with, Modi also pledged "to make the 21st century India's century".

The abrasive Modi is expected to turn the country sharply to the right after a decade of rule by the centre-left Congress party which presided over a slowdown in growth and a series of corruption scandals.

Modi made good governance and development the main focus of his campaign, deriding his Congress rival Rahul Gandhi as a "princeling" who had little concept of the aspirations of the 551 million people who voted in the marathon six-week contest.

Rahul, whose mother led Congress to victory in 2004, fought a lacklustre campaign that has cast doubt not only about his future but also about his party's survival now the Gandhi family appears to have lost its magic.

Official figures from the Election Commission showed the BJP had secured 278 seats and was projected to win another four in the 543-member parliament, the first majority by a single party since Rahul's father Rajiv led the Congress to victory 30 years ago.

- Hero's welcome -

Modi is expected to land at the Indian capital's main airport in mid-morning before driving into the city centre, with thousands of supporters expected to cheer his arrival from the side of the road.

Similar processions during the course of the election campaign saw tens of thousands of people regularly turn out to greet the strict vegetarian, showering him with marigold flowers and rose petals.

He is then scheduled to attend a meeting of the party's top leaders at BJP headquarters, many of whom are expected to join his new cabinet.

Among those expected to attend Saturday's meeting is Arun Jaitley, tipped by many to become the new finance minister. Party president Rajnath Singh, seen as a potential interior minister, will chair the meeting.

Although the line-up of his government may not become clear for several days, its main task will be to fire up the economy which has seen growth slide to less than five percent from nine percent two years ago.

Anger about rising food prices and inflation was a major factor in the result.

Business leaders have been among his most enthusiastic supporters and the Mumbai stock exchange has seen share prices soar over the last month.

His victory would likely have been greeted with less enthusiasm among Western governments who boycotted Modi for a decade in the aftermath of the 2002 riots that left more than 1,000 people -- mainly Muslims -- dead.

US President Barack Obama on Friday telephoned Modi and invited him "to visit Washington at a mutually agreeable time to further strengthen our bilateral relationship".

The White House said that a former visa ban targeting Modi would be overturned.

Earlier British Prime Minister David Cameron rang Modi to invite him to London, while Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif hailed an "impressive victory".

There have been fears that a victory for Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP could signal bumpy times ahead for India and Pakistan which have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

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