NEW DELHI -- Thousands of people welcomed India's next prime minister in the capital on Saturday after he led his party to a resounding election victory, with Narendra Modi flashing a victory sign to his cheering supporters and telling them the win "created a new confidence among people."
Results announced Friday from the weeks-long polls showed Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had won the most decisive election victory India has seen in three decades, sweeping the long-dominant Congress party from power.
On Saturday, Modi was greeted by roaring crowds outside the BJP's headquarters in the heart of New Delhi, where he met with the party's leadership to discuss forming a new government.
The headquarters were festooned with garlands made of marigold flowers and multicolored balloons. Supporters blew conch shells, which traditionally mark the start of most Hindu rituals. As Modi walked toward the office, he was showered with rose petals.
In a country where elections usually result in cacophony rather than a single roar, Modi pulled off a mandate of staggering proportions, leaving him unfettered to pursue the agenda of economic revival and development that propelled him to victory.
What remains to be seen is how quickly Modi, who has ruled the western state of Gujarat since 2001, can match the enormous expectations he has created in an electorate that is hungry for change.
"One might envy Narendra Modi his awesome electoral victory yesterday. But the challenges he faces as India's 17th prime minister are scarcely enviable," Mohan Guruswamy, an economist long associated with the BJP, wrote in The Citizen, an online journal.
For most of the past two years, Modi, 63, has worked relentlessly to market himself as the one leader capable of waking this nation of 1.2 billion from its economic slumber, while trying to shake off allegations he looked the other way amid communal riots in his home state in 2002 that killed 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.
On Saturday, as thousands of people cheered and danced in the streets to welcome him to the capital, it was clear that Modi had managed to win the confidence of a large number of Indians.
Modi and the BJP wiped out a Congress party that had dominated Indian politics for all but a decade since the country gained freedom from British rule in 1947.
The final tally showed that the BJP had won 282 seats and Congress just 44 in the 543-strong Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament -- meaning Modi will be able to form a government without the support of smaller parties.
The last time any single party won a majority in India was in 1984, when the Congress party swept more than 400 seats following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Modi's critics have questioned whether his divisive past makes him a leader under whom India's many religious minorities -- especially its 138 million Muslims -- could feel safe.
Sreeram Chaulia, a political analyst and dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs, said that Modi "may have started his career on the extreme right, but he's coming more toward the center now. And he will have to. The average voter is not interested in religious tensions."