For two-thirds of a century, the Congress has occupied pole position in Indian politics. That has now changed; the party has shrivelled to less than a tenth of the Lok Sabha, and Narendra Modi's triumphant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now the truly national party. A constituency-wise map of the country shows a vast field of saffron, and Congress seats like scattered monsoon clouds. This is a change of seismic proportions. The BJP has established dominance in its areas of strength, and a growing presence in areas where it has not existed so far. The Congress on its part is now without a strong base anywhere, having been wiped out in its earlier stronghold of Andhra Pradesh, bested in Karnataka, routed in Maharashtra, sidelined in West Bengal, marginalised in Uttar Pradesh, and drawn a virtual blank in more than half a dozen key states across the heartland - a repeat of its rout in the state elections five months ago.
Mr Modi's massive victory, comparable in impact to Indira Gandhi's sweeping comeback in 1980, could additionally impact the defining ideas of Indian politics. The BJP view of the country has been fundamentally at variance with the Congress one, on account of its majoritarian ethos. However, Mr Modi has shown a willingness to move towards the centre, to put divisiveness behind him, and to reach out to all comers. Just as Indira Gandhi's unconstitutional Emergency actions were relegated to the history books after she won the 1980 elections, so Mr Modi must now be given the room to demonstrate that he is indeed capable of being the prime minister that India needs. The political evolution of India, of Mr Modi and of the BJP will be keenly watched by both citizens and observers.
The governance task facing Mr Modi is a gigantic one, especially in the context of the high hopes that he has raised across the country. If one is to judge by the skill and enormous drive with which he has mounted his massive victory, he should be more than equal to the task. Mr Modi once described himself as a natural manager; the campaign shows that he is capable of organising, delegating, and providing energetic leadership, the very qualities that mark out a good manager. Certainly, what the economy needs most of all just now is a problem-solving drive by a competent manager. Investors certainly think such is on the cards; no previous election has been received so enthusiastically by the business community. That alone should be able to impart some bounce to the economy.
Politically, a two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha is now a possibility, if the BJP reaches out to one or other of the regional parties that have done well. However, the Rajya Sabha could be a block when it comes to effecting legislative change, since the BJP has only a fifth of the seats in the House; even with its allies, it will be a challenge to cobble together a majority. That will change only after the next round of biennial elections to the Upper House, but those are due only two years from now. For all one knows, though, Mr Modi's promise of working together with everyone might deliver willing support from uncommitted quarters. In other words, Mr Modi has been given the mandate with which he can do what he thinks is needed to rescue the economy.
These elections have buried Rahul Gandhi, along with large numbers of other established politicians who have enjoyed being regional satraps. The big question marks are over the Congress: are the days of an extraordinary dynasty coming to an end? Rahul Gandhi may not be up to the task, but can the Congress survive without the Gandhis?