Narendra Modi wrested the top job in the country on Friday as a saffron wave swept most of India, lifting the Bharatiya Janata Party to its highest-ever tally and leaving the Congress in tatters.
Underlining the humiliation of India's oldest party, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had
to scrap hard to beat the BJP's Smriti Irani in the Gandhi family bastion of Amethi, while several senior ministers bit the dust.
Modi led the BJP back to power after a decade in the opposition, taking advantage of public anger at the Congress for uncontrolled high prices, corruption scams and rising unemployment.
The triumph capped an amazing run for the 63-year-old chief minister of Gujarat, who ran a high-voltage campaign that rewrote the political rulebook and knocked his rivals off balance. The result is the biggest landslide in 30 years, and the first time since 1984 that a single party has a majority in the Lok Sabha.
The mandate gives Modi the chance to shape the new government as he wishes, without the pulls and pressures that have hobbled past coalitions. Expectations are growing that he will slash red tape, revamp tax laws and unveil measures to kickstart growth.
Watch: How Modi's landslide win redefines India's polity
The Congress' incumbency problems were compounded by a listless showing from Rahul, who failed to grab the public imagination. He finally emerged in the afternoon and acknowledged that the responsibility for the defeat was his. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his cabinet will resign on Saturday.
Modi, who triumphed from both Vadodara and Varanasi, tweeted "India has won!" and went to seek the blessings of his 90-year-old mother Hiraben in Ahmedabad. Later, he told an adoring crowd in Vadodara, "I trust the people of India and they trust me, and it is the power of trust that will work for this country."
Narendra Modi will lead a victory procession and meet party men in the capital on Friday.
Modi is expected to reach the party headquarters in central Delhi's Ashoka Road in two hours and will participate in the meeting of the parliamentary board scheduled at 12.30pm.
"Modi will leave Ahmedabad at 8am on Saturday and his flight is expected to reach here by 10am. BJP has made extensive arrangements for a victory procession of Modi from the airport to the party headquarter on Ashok road. The procession will stop at eight places on the way to party headquarter where cadres will felicitate him," said a source associated with the arrangements.
He will then fly to Varanasi in the afternoon where he is expected to participate in Ganga arti and a public meeting. He is expected to be back in the capital by night.
According to late-night figures, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was leading or had won in 339 seats, with the BJP alone at 284, comfortably crossing the 272 halfway mark needed to form the government.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was limping in at 57, heading for its worst-ever tally. Leads and results from all 543 seats were in.
The BJP-led alliance swept the electorally key state of Uttar Pradesh, leading or winning in a stunning 73 of the 80 seats, its campaign orchestrated by Modi's right-hand man Amit Shah. Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party, which runs the state government, won just a handful of seats and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was wiped out.
In Bihar, the BJP was leading in 31 of the 40 seats, and in the nation's capital, the BJP was set for a clean sweep in all seven seats.
Congratulations came in from across the world, including the United States and the United Kingdom, which had in the past shunned Modi over riots that happened in Gujarat under his watch in 2002.
In contrast, there was gloom in the Congress camp as many prominent ministers lost or were heading for defeat, including Sushilkumar Shinde, Kapil Sibal and Sachin Pilot. Arun Jaitley was a prominent loser on the BJP side, undone by anti-incumbency against the ruling Akali Dal in Amritsar.
The big winners included J Jayalalithaa's AIADMK, which led in 37 of the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu, and Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, which was leading in 34 of the 42 seats in West Bengal.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which stunned everyone by winning the Delhi assembly last year, made an encouraging Lok Sabha debut, grabbing a handful of seats in Punjab. But its chief, Arvind Kejriwal, fell well short of Modi in Varanasi.
Friday's counting exercise brings down the curtain on a gargantuan poll process that began on March 5 with the announcement of the poll schedule. A record 66.4% people turned out to cast their votes in nine phases of the world's biggest election held between April 7 and May 12.
Modi to discuss govt formation today
The landslide victory has given PM-designate Modi all the leverage he wants to form his cabinet. Party sources indicated that Modi, who is arriving here on Saturday, would share with top BJP leaders his plans about the team he has in mind.
Modi will take part in the BJP's parliamentary board meeting on Saturday to set in motion the process of government formation. He is likely to take oath next week, with leaders close to him suggesting May 21 as a probable date.
Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley is tipped to get an important portfolio while his Lok Sabha counterpart Sushma Swaraj is being seen as a probable for the external affairs ministry.
Former BJP chief Nitin Gadkari has emerged as a strong contender for one of the top four ministries – home, defence, finance and external affairs. There is a likelihood that BJP chief Rajnath Singh would continue in the party organisation, in line with the RSS' preference for a leader with 'stature' at the top post, till his term expires in December 2015.
Watch: BJP activists celebrate with HT's special edition
A BJP leader said a decision on appointing LK Advani as the next Lok Sabha speaker was not a closed chapter. Jharkhand MP Karia Munda, deputy speaker in the outgoing Lok Sabha, is another probable for this post. Party veteran Murli Manohar Joshi, who wants external affairs or finance, may be accommodated as deputy chairman of the planning commission.
Party vice-president Smriti Irani who gave a tough fight to Rahul Gandhi in Amethi is a strong contender for a ministerial berth. Her name is doing the rounds as minister of state in the PMO. Former Uttarakhand chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, general secretary Dharmendra Pradhan, BJP's youth wing chief Anurag Thakur and former minister Suresh Prabhu could also make it to the Modi ministry.
Two MPs from the Telugu Desam Party, Apna Dal chief Anupriya Patel, who was elected from Mirzapur, LJP chief Ramvilas Paswan and Bihar leader Upendra Kushwaha may also get ministerial berths.
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