Updated: 05/16/2014 14:49 | By Agence France-Presse

BJP declares 'new era' for India as Congress concedes defeat

India's triumphant Hindu nationalists declared "the start of a new era" in the world's second most-populous nation as the ruling Congress declared defeat in elections that laid bare anger about sickly economic growth and rampant corruption.

BJP declares 'new era' for India as Congress concedes defeat

Members of a band dance and celebrate in front of the headquarters office of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in New Delhi, on May 16, 2014 - by Roberto Schmidt

Preliminary results and media projections at the climax of the marathon six-week election showed the BJP on track for the first parliamentary majority by a single party in 30 years. 

The stunning results exceeded all forecasts, as firecrackers exploded at party offices around the country and sweets were handed out in celebrations that began only a few hours after the first figures filtered out.

"This is the beginning of change, a people's revolution and the start of a new era," senior BJP leader Prakash Javadekar told AFP at party headquarters in New Delhi.

The Congress party, the national secular force that has run India for all but 13 years since independence, was set to crash to its worst ever result after a decade in power.

"We accept defeat. We are ready to sit in the opposition," senior Congress leader and spokesman Rajeev Shukla told reporters at party headquarters in New Delhi.

"Modi promised the moon and stars to the people. People bought that dream," he added.

Media projections showed the BJP winning more than the 272 seats required for a majority on its own, with victories by its allies taking it easily in excess of 300.

Stock markets, which have risen 5.0 percent in the past week, surged again. The benchmark Sensex index jumped more than six percent on Friday to a record high.

Investors and the wider public have rediscovered heady -- many say unrealistic -- optimism about the world's largest democracy after years of frustration about low economic growth, rising food prices and corruption.

The disastrous showing for Congress is another blow to the scion of the Gandhi dynasty, 43-year-old Rahul, whose first performance as chief campaigner will likely lead to dissent.

The country's most illustrious political family has provided three prime ministers but preliminary results showed Rahul with only a wafer-thin lead in his constituency of Amethi.

A group of Congress supporters shouted slogans in support of Rahul's more popular sister Priyanka outside party headquarters on Friday.

"The politics of inheritance, the politics of dynasty, the politics of entitlement is being punished," BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad told the CNN-IBN news channel.

- Tea seller -

Modi, a 63-year-old son of a low-caste tea seller, has reinvented himself from a controversial regional leader tainted by anti-Muslim riots to an aspiring prime minister intent on helping India fulfil its potential. 

After a presidential-style campaign built around him and his record running western Gujarat state, expectations are sky-high of what Modi will deliver in a chaotic and still poor country that is home to a sixth of humanity.

Modi's promises to revive the flagging economy have won him corporate cheerleaders, while his rags-to-riches story and reputation as a clean and efficient administrator satisfy many Indians' desire for strong leadership.

He was always assured the votes of his core Hindu nationalist supporters, but his election pitch has drawn the urban middle classes as well as the poor, whose loyalty has traditionally been to Congress and its welfare schemes.

Attacks from his opponents -- one called him a "devil" and the "Butcher of Gujarat" -- as well as warnings from secular-minded critics and religious minorities appear to have failed to dent his rise.

The BJP's previous best showing was in elections in 1998 and 1999 when it won 182 seats and ran the country until a shock defeat to Congress in 2004.

A BJP victory and a Modi prime ministership will usher in a new style of leadership by an abrasive nationalist drawn from outside the usual Delhi elite.

"They can't believe it -- they can't believe that someone from such a simple background could beat them," Modi's sister Vasantiben Modi told AFP in an interview at her modest home in Gujarat.

- Religious riots -

While 81-year-old outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was hailed by US President Barack Obama as a "wise and decent man", Modi would be an awkward prospect for Washington and other Western powers.

The bachelor, elected three times as chief minister in his home state, was boycotted by the US and European powers for a decade over religious riots in Gujarat in 2002 that left around 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead.

He denies that he turned a blind eye to the bloodshed and his focus on the campaign trail has been jobs. 

But the BJP manifesto includes a pledge to build a temple to honour the Hindu god Ram at the site of a former mosque in northern India, a religious flashpoint that sparked deadly rioting in 1992.

"He has to succeed on the economy and that's the thing on which he will be judged," said Christophe Jaffrelot, an academic on India from Paris' Sciences Po university and King's College London.

"But what if he fails to relaunch the economy? The Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) plank is the plan B," he told AFP.

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