India's PM-elect Modi offers prayers on banks of Ganges

India's PM-elect Modi offers prayers on banks of Ganges
Narendra Modi, India's new Prime Minister.

VARANASI, India - India's prime minister-elect Narendra Modi offered prayers on the banks of the river Ganges on Saturday, after making a visit to the sacred city of Varanasi, where he was greeted by thousands of well-wishers.

Modi, flanked by other senior figures from his victorious Bharatiya Janata Party, performed a series of Hindu rituals to seek blessings ahead of his swearing-in, which is expected next week.

As priests and onlookers chanted devotional songs, Modi lit a traditional oil lamp and sat atop a flower-decked dais on the bank of the river, which is worshipped by Hindus as a cleanser of sins.

The ceremony was rich in political symbolism, underlining Modi's roots as a Hindu nationalist even as he promises to govern for all of India, including its religious minorities.

Modi stood for election from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh state, a chaotic city of temples where Hindus consider it auspicious to be cremated. He won by a huge margin of about 370,000 votes.

The polarising four-time chief minister of western Gujarat state was long seen as a right-winger in his party, but presented himself as a centrist economic reformer during the election campaign.

The BJP won the first majority in parliament by a single party for 30 years on Friday, handing Modi a strong mandate for change amid lingering suspicion of him by India's 150 million Muslims.

In 2002, anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat shortly after he came to power in the state left about 1,000 dead and a legacy of suspicion that he did too little to prevent the killing.

The 63-year-old, who has spent his career in pro-Hindu organisations, has always denied wrongdoing and investigators have found no evidence to prosecute him.

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