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Opposition Party Wins, India's Congress Party Concedes Defeat


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. We have today the sound of an historic election victory in India.


INSKEEP: Those are people celebrating the projected win by a Hindu nationalist party, the BJP. That party is far ahead in the counting so far, meaning that Narendra Modi will likely be the next prime minister of the world's largest democracy. They are on the verge of being declared the winners here. NPR's Julie McCarthy is covering this story from New Delhi. And Julie, let's first note that this is a change in power. The ruling Congress Party appears to be on the way out. How big a change is this?

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Well, I think you could fairly say a new chapter in Indian political life was written today. Narendra Modi and the BJP are leaning and leading so decisively over their rival, the Congress Party of the Gandhi family; that Congress is winning only a few dozen seats, Steve. Modi's performance is as remarkable as the Gandhi family party's fall is. And what makes it so ignominious is that the Congress Party led India's independence and has been the governing force for all but a few governments. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh telephoned Narendra Modi and congratulated him. He will tender his resignation Saturday, along with the cabinet. The BJP appears to have won an outright majority, the best electoral showing ever. And that's a phenomenal feat in India where governments traditionally have had to stitch together coalitions to rule. So, yes, the much-hyped Modi wave did in fact materialize, and one supporter said it's not a tsunami, it's a super-tsunami.

INSKEEP: And I understand that the Congress Party, and particularly the Gandhis themselves, have taken responsibility for defeat here.

MCCARTHY: They indeed did. And after they did that one analyst said to me, the Congress Party had no sense of its own history and they had to go. You know, there was this - even accounting, Steve, for anti-incumbency, the Congress Party had been in power for a decade here. This is a breathtaking defeat for the party of Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul. And it was Sonia Gandhi who in fact addressed supporters tonight and said: The clear mandate is against us, against this party, and as president of that party, I will have to take responsibility for that.

But there's something else going on here, Steve, and I think that arguably more significant, and that is that the Indian economy have been in the dumps, and Modi exploited that. He captured the imagination of young Indians who came out to vote for him in large numbers. There were a hundred million more voters added to the voting rolls this time, and those young people see in Modi the hope for development, the hope for pushing India into and economic superpower. That's what they want. This is a place where growth has shrunk by what Indian standards is anemic levels. And they saw Modi as the opportunity to springboard India, to push India into another place.

INSKEEP: Wow. So I'm just stuck on that hundred million voter figure. You say that's the number of extra voters in India. That's getting close to the size the entire electorate in the United States, 550,000 voters overall in India. And Modi's party appears to be winning here. What is Modi saying about all this?

MCCARTHY: Well, earlier before he spoke, he visited his 95-year-old mother and he asked her for her blessing. And the man India is expected soon to call its prime minister will travel to Delhi tomorrow, signaling I think that he doesn't need to rush to Delhi, that he's going to set his own course and move on his own terms. But he told supporters in the district of Vododara in the state of Gujarat, where he's ruled the past 13 years, that he was not born when India gained independence in 1947. He was born in 1950. And that he couldn't die for the country or go to jail for the country. But now, he said, I must live for India. And he said, every cell in my body will be devoted to public service.

And it must be said, Steve, that Modi set a grueling pace on a campaign trail that left his rival breathless, and in that sense he also upended the way campaigns are conducted. It looked very much like a hard-charging step of a U.S. presidential campaign.

INSKEEP: All right. And so now he faces the challenge of governing, and we're going to be hearing from you about that in the coming weeks, months and years. NPR's Julie McCarthy in New Delhi, where there appears to be new party about to take power after a massive election victory apparently by the BJP and Narendra Modi. Thanks very much, Julie.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.