NEW DELHI /WASHINGTON
Narendra Modi fought back tears in an emotional first address to his party in India’s colonnaded parliament house on Tuesday, after the Hindu nationalist swept to power in an election that has changed the face of politics in the country.
Modi will be India’s next prime minister after leading the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a historic victory in a ballot that ended on Friday. He is likely to take his oath of office to lead the world’s biggest democracy on Monday.
The win handed the BJP its first parliamentary majority and reduced the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty’s ruling Congress party to 44 seats, the lowest ever tally for a party that won India’s independence and has ruled for most of the 67 years since. Modi, 63, choked up and stopped his speech to drink water during his inaugural appearance in the round, colonial-era building. He addressed BJP lawmakers filling more than half the seats of the lower house with uplifting words that commentators immediately contrasted with the often wooden addresses of his predecessor Manmohan Singh.
“It is proof of the strength of our constitution that a man from a poor family is standing here today,” said Modi, who sold tea on a railway platform as a child before entering politics. For the past 12 years he has governed the state of Gujarat.
Moreover, hours after Modi took over as prime minister of India on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said he looked forward to returning to India ‘soon’ and renewing President Barack Obama’s invitation to the Indian leader, who remained under a US visa ban for nine years on account of his role in the 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat.
’The United States stands ready to work closely with Prime Minister Modi and the new government to promote shared prosperity and strengthen our security,’Kerry said, according to a State Department statement.
’I look forward to returning to India soon and echo President Obama’s invitation to Prime Minister Modi to visit the United States at the earliest opportunity,’ he said. Referring to over 530 million Indians going to the polls, the top American diplomat noted that ’the voice of the Indian electorate is clear and unequivocal in its call for economic opportunity and effective governance for all.’
’The friendship between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy is absolutely vital, and the United States is deeply invested in our strategic relationship,’ Kerry said. ‘We look forward to strengtheningour partnership based on common values, shared democratic traditions, and the binding ties between our peoples.’
“This government (will be) one which thinks of the poor, which listens to the poor, a government which lives for the people,” said Modi, who kissed the steps of the pink sandstone parliament building before his speech. His comments appeared designed to counter criticism that his record of business-focussed government and fast economic growth in Gujarat did not do enough to lift people from poverty.
Congress has traditionally cast itself as India’s champion of the poor and downtrodden. Modi faces a huge task in meeting the sky-high expectations of India’s 1.2 billion people, who hope he can drag the country from economic torpor, tackle corruption and cut red tape in order to create enough jobs for its burgeoning youth.
With thunderous applause and shouts of “Long live Modi!” the 282 BJP members, who comfortably make up a majority in the 543-seat house, officially chose him as their parliamentary leader, one of several formalities before he is sworn in.
Modi was later due to visit President Pranab Mukherjee, who has little political power but, as head of state, has the task of formally appointing the prime minister.
Meanwhile, the United States hopes to be able to expand naval cooperation with India once a new government is in place in New Delhi, the chief of US naval operations said on Monday. Admiral Jonathan Greenert said the United States would like to see this cooperation extend to India’s participation in exercises in the Western Pacific region, where an increasingly powerful China is becoming more assertive.
“There’s a strategic partnership and opportunity up there with India that is emerging,” Greenert told a Washington think tank. “My goal would be to get back to where we were in mid-2000s.”
“We were doing very, very comprehensive events. We were doing carrier operations together, very, very complex, integrated ... and I think it would be great if we could get back to that level,” he said.
“Then maybe India would be willing to come over to Western Pacific ... we will just have to see what the political ramifications are and where they are willing to go.”
US officials say plans to expand naval cooperation with India ended up on a back burner during a long-running row between New Delhi and Washington over the treatment of an Indian diplomat in New York and in the run-up to India’s election earlier in May.
Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party won a resounding victory in the election.
The scale of the win, which gave Modi India’s strongest mandate in 30 years, will assure him greater control over the country’s security agenda, and analysts say India may finally be able to deal with overseas rivals from a position of strength.
India’s state-run energy company, Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC), has a stake in a gas field in the South China Sea, a region where China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia have competing claims.
India has sparred diplomatically with China in the past over this exploration block, and in late 2012, India’s navy chief said India was prepared to deploy vessels to the South China Sea to protect its energy interests.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and there were confrontations between Chinese and Vietnamese ships this month after Beijing deployed an oil drilling rig in disputed waters 150 miles (240 km) off Vietnam’s coast.
Vietnam has broadened its military relationships in recent years in response to China’s assertiveness, including with India and the United States.
Last week, the US Seventh Fleet, which guards US interests in the Pacific, renewed a call for more ship visits to Vietnam.
Greenert said he was not familiar with the specifics of the negotiations on increased cooperation with Vietnam, but he added: “I would like to see it increase in a deliberate manner.”