India's opposition leader, Narendra Modi, will become the next prime minister of the world's largest democracy, winning the most decisive election victory the country has seen in three decades and sweeping the long-dominant Congress party from power.
Modi, a career politician whose campaign promised a revival of economic growth, will have a strong mandate to govern at a time of profound changes in Indian society. He also has said he wants to strengthen India's strategic partnership with the United States. But critics worry the ascendance of his Hindu nationalist party could worsen sectarian tensions with India's minority 138 million Muslims.
The results were a crushing defeat for the Congress party, which is deeply entwined with the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty that has been at the centre of Indian politics for most of the country's post-independence history. The government, led by outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has been plagued by repeated corruption scandals and a poor economy.
As his overwhelming win became clear Friday, Modi appeared before a crowd of cheering supporters and tried to strike a conciliatory note.
"I have always said that to govern the nation it is our responsibility to take everyone with us," Modi said after a lengthy and punishing race. "I want your blessings so that we can run a government that carries everyone with it."
Nevertheless, Modi remains a divisive figure in the country of 1.2 billion people, in large part because he, as chief minister of Gujarat state, was in command in 2002 when communal rioting there killed more than 1,000 people — most of them Muslims.
Modi was accused of doing little to stop the rampage, though he denies any wrongdoing and has never been charged with a crime. He was denied a U.S. visa in 2005 for alleged complicity in the riots, although as prime minister he would be virtually assured a visa.