Modi faces mammoth task to meet India's soaring expectations

Modi faces mammoth task to meet India's soaring expectations
Indian supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pose for a photograph wearing masks bearing the image of party leader Narendra Modi as they celebrate the party's election result outside a counting centre in Siliguri on May 16, 2014.

GANDHINAGAR, India - About a year ago Narendra Modi sat down with some of India's best and brightest to mount a "shock and awe" election campaign that a strategist likened to a one-sided US military operation against Saddam Hussein's forces in the Gulf.

From an unmarked office in Gandhinagar, the capital of Modi's home state of Gujarat, the young men and women, some on sabbaticals from firms like JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank, worked on turning a fragmented parliamentary election involving 543 seats into a presidential-style referendum on candidate Modi.

In doing so, Modi cut loose from the traditional Delhi-based structure of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its apparatchiks and adopted the language of a youthful country eager for change, using everything from holograms to WhatsApp.

The modern approach worked: just an hour into the counting of votes on Friday, it was clear that the 63-year-old Modi was heading for a stunning victory with the strongest mandate any Indian government has enjoyed for 30 years.

By mid-afternoon, the BJP and its allies were leading the count in 339 parliamentary seats, far ahead of the 272 majority required to rule. Even on its own, the BJP had crossed the halfway mark.

So great appears to be the desire for change, especially among India's middle class some 300 million strong, and so firmly has Modi stayed on message, that a dark chapter of violence against Muslims on his watch has mattered less and less to many voters.

Modi, a Hindu nationalist, has long faced allegations that he looked the other way when Hindu mobs went on a rampage of revenge against Muslims in Gujarat after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was torched in 2002.

He has denied the allegations and a Supreme Court ordered inquiry absolved him of responsibility.

Modi has refused calls for remorse for the lives lost, most of them from the sizeable Muslim minority of more than 150 million people. Instead he has donned the mantle of an economic moderniser, building on Gujarat's mercantile traditions.

INDIA'S "GUANGDONG"

In recent years, the state Modi has governed since 2001 has been compared with Guangdong province, the spearhead of China's economic revival.

Since Modi took control, Gujarat has led the nation in GDP growth. It accounts for 16 per cent of industrial output and 22 per cent of exports, despite having 5 per cent of its population.

Under his stewardship, farmers and industry have been assured uninterrupted power, albeit at high rates, and bureaucratic controls slashed.

A central government-ordered study last month said it had the best land acquisition policies in place, among all of India's 29 states in terms of ease of doing business.

Land, by far, has been the single biggest hurdle around the country, holding up 90 per cent of infrastructure projects.

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