Foreign Media on Narendra Modi’s Emotional Speech
New Delhi – Narendra Modi, the son of a provincial tea seller, was overcome by emotion on Tuesday after members of his political group, the Bharatiya Janata Party, endorsed him as India’s next prime minister, telling the assembled crowd, “This is the power of our Constitution, which has given this power to the commonest of the common people.”
Modi, 63, who once hoped to become a monk and then rose through the ranks of a Hindu nationalist organization, kissed the steps of the Indian Parliament building here as he entered, a gesture typically made when crossing the threshold of a temple. When he choked up during his speech, comparing serving India with serving his mother, many of his supporters could be seen dabbing away tears.
Before the country’s recent election, Modi conducted an aggressive, sometimes caustic campaign against the governing party, the centrist Indian National Congress, whose popularity has been damaged by corruption scandals and stalling economic growth.
But on Tuesday, he adopted a softer tone, calling on Indians to share his sense of optimism and announcing that “a new hope has arisen in the common man.”
“At the end of the day, who is the government for?” Modi said. “It is for the poor. For rural areas, farmers, untouchables, the weak and the pained; this government is for them. To meet their aspirations and hopes, this is our priority, because our weakest, our poorest have sent us here.”
He added, “I will do everything to fulfill their aspirations.” President Pranab Mukherjee set May 26 as Modi’s swearing-in date.
The BJP, Modi’s party, secured 282 of 543 seats in the elections, limiting Congress to 44 seats, a historic low. Because India has a first-past-the-post system, the disparity is far smaller in terms of actual votes, with the BJP having received 31 percent to Congress’ 19.3 percent. The remaining seats are held by smaller parties, many allied with either the BJP or Congress.
With its majority, the BJP will be able to form a government without having to attract regional leaders as allies, something no party other than Congress has achieved. Critics fear that this freedom will untie Modi’s hands to pursue the cultural agenda of the Hindu far right, a dangerous path in a country that is 15 percent Muslim and with sizable Sikh and Christian populations.
But supporters have urged Modi to see the results as a mandate for bringing radical change to New Delhi.
A first sign of that effort came on Monday, when, according to The Hindustan Times, cabinet secretaries were asked to report to him on goals that could be achieved in the next five years and to describe “what in your view shouldn’t have been done” by the departing government, as well as their main achievements under Congress and “the gap between the actual result and the intended plan.”
In the days since his victory, Modi has repeatedly compared his mission with India’s struggle for independence from Britain, suggesting that his planned campaign for development will require sacrifice. He agreed to live a celibate life in his 20s, when he became a full-time worker for a Hindu right-wing organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and he remains highly disciplined in his habits, rising before sunrise and restricting his diet.
On Monday, he promised to throw himself into his new role like a “disciplined soldier” and said accepting a responsibility required the devotion of “every part of your body, every moment in time.” He noted that during his grueling campaign, which often required him to travel across the country to lead four rallies a day in the scorching heat of summer, he had canceled only one scheduled event, and only because someone at the venue had died in an accident.
The most striking moment on Tuesday came after a senior party member, L.K. Advani, thanked Modi for doing him and the BJP a “favor.”
“I would request him not to use that word,” Modi said, before leaning over the lectern, apparently so moved that he was unable to speak. He asked for a glass of water, then continued. “Can devotion to a mother ever be a favor? Never. As India is my mother, the BJP is my mother, too. And that is why a son can never do a favor for his mother, but only serve her. It is the party that has done me a favor by giving me the opportunity to serve this mother.”