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Narendra Modi

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s main opposition party, chose Narendra Modi, one of the country’s most controversial politicians, to lead it in national elections in 2014. This boosted his chances of becoming prime minister, when the party won. Speaking to party members after his election as head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) poll campaign committee on 10 June 2013, Modi vowed to defeat the ruling Congress Party, which has headed a coalition government since 2004. Modi said the party's aim should be to free India of Congress Party rule. He said, if this can happen all problems will be solved.

Modi ruled the western Gujarat state. His appointment to the national campaign committee has put the regional leader within reach of the prime minister’s job, if he can secure a victory for his party. But that exposed deep rifts within the BJP. A day after Modi was elected, a top BJP leader, Lal Krishna Advani, quit several key party posts, raising fears of turmoil within the party. Although Modi is seen as a man who will revitalize the party, many top leaders fear being sidelined. They expect him to energize the party and carry it forward and give it a new direction. The party has been flagging a bit over the past several years. But, on the other hand, the senior leadership are a little uneasy because Modi is the kind of domineering leader who has very little time for other senior leaders. Modi would take BJP toward a personality-oriented party.

Modi has received praise for expediting development in his Gujarat state and turning it into an economic powerhouse. More recently, the fiery Hindu nationalist leader has tried to project the image of a no-nonsense man who can deliver good governance and rescue India’s faltering economy. In 2013 polled indicated Modi’s strongest supporters were India’s urban, middle classes, who are looking for an alternative to the scandal-ridden Congress Party and calling for cleaner governance. But this message may not resonate in the heartland of India.

Modi tried to focus on development and showcase the kind of high growth rates in Gujarat. But the BJP is consistently non-existent in many parts of India. So Modi maybe doing a great job among the social media audience across India, but the electorate is a much bigger constituency. And, these are areas where Modi does not really strike anywhere. His rule was blotted by his role in the deadly anti-Muslim riots that killed more than 2,000 people in 2002. This raised concerns that Modi may find it difficult to win the support of voters and regional parties in key political states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where Muslims make up a sizeable part of the population.

The Congress party's image has been badly tarnished by a series of corruption scandals during its second term in office. It also received flak for a policy paralysis that has led India’s economy to slump to its slowest in a decade. Support for the Congress party is slipping, but it remains to be seen if Modi can convert public disillusionment with the ruling party into gains for his party.

Narendra Modi was born to a middle class family in the Mehsana district of Gujarat in 1950. He displayed decisive leadership qualities during his student life itself, when he successfully set up a new chapter of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a powerful national student body. A post-graduate in political science, he entered social life right at the beginning of his career, in the early seventies.

He started with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a socio-cultural organisation. Narendra Modi was a functionary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist organization. Fascistic ideologies motivated founding ideologues of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Modi has incorporated the teachings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in his governance of Gujarat.

RSS participates in politics by deputing its pracharaks (apparatchiks) to BJP and other supplementary organisations. India’s former (1998-2004) Prime Minister Vajpayee and the former Deputy Prime Minister Advani were among those deputed to politics (i.e. the BJP) by the RSS. During his years with the RSS, Modi played an important role on several occasions, including the 1974 anti-corruption agitation and during the 19 month (from June 1975 to January 1977) long ‘emergency’ when fundamental rights of Indian citizens were suspended. Modi kept the spirit of democracy live by staying underground for the entire period and fighting a spirited battle against the fascist ways of the then government.

Narendra Modi was a pracharak, a full time worker of the RSS owing total allegiance to its ideology, its theories and practice. For a pracharak to become the Prime Minister of India is a big step forward in the RSS project. Gujarat 2002 was a result as well as an experiment of the Hindu rashtra project under his leadership in which he was fully backed by the RSS. In 2013-2014, when differences arose in the BJP as to who should lead the party’s bid for power in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it was the RSS which not only backed Modi’s candidature but directly intervened to silence the opposition of L.K.Advani and other senior leaders. The Prime Minister’s refusal to take any action against those who are his colleagues in the RSS and are now in positions of power in the BJP in spite of their repeated communally provocative actions and statements is a reflection of his loyalty to the RSS.

After serving the RSS for about a decade-and-a-half, in 1988, Modi was made the General Secretary of the BJP’s Gujarat unit. By that time he had already acquired the reputation of being a highly efficient organiser. He took up the challenging task of energising the party cadres in right earnest. The party started earning political gains and formed a coalition government in April 1990. The partnership fell apart within a few months but the BJP came to power with a two-third majority on it’s own in 1995. Since then, the BJP had been the ruling party in the state of Gujarat. Between 1988 and 1995, Modi was recognised as the master strategist who had successfully carried out the necessary ground work for making the Gujarat BJP the ruling party of the state.

During this period, Modi was entrusted with the responsibility of organising two crucial national events also - the Somnath to Ayodhya Rath Yatra (a very long march) of Mr Advani and a similar march from Kanyakumari (the southern most part of India) to the troubled Kashmir in north. at Ayodhya, a mosque demolition sparked bloody riots between Hindus and Muslims. Hindu extremists destroyed the 16th century Babri mosque, saying it was built by destroying a temple at the birthplace of their god-king Rama. They said want to rebuild the temple. The demolition triggered nationwide riots that left about 2,000 people dead, the bloodiest in India since the 1947 partition with Pakistan.

Most historians have attributed the coming of the BJP to power at New Delhi in 1998 to these two highly successful events, the nitty-gritty of which was handled by Narendra Modi. In 1995 Modi was asked by his party to play a role at the national level – he was appointed as Secretary of the BJP’s national unit at New Delhi. He was promoted as General Secretary (Organisation) in 1998, a post he held until October 2001, when he was chosen to be the chief minister of one of India’s most prosperous states, Gujarat. During his stint at the national level, Modi was asked to oversee the affairs of several state level units, including the sensitive and crucial states like Jammu & Kashmir and the equally sensitive north-eastern states. He was responsible, and credited for, having successfully revamped the party organisation in several states.

While working at the national level, Modi emerged as an important spokesman for the party and played a key role on several important occasions. In October 2001, he was asked by the party to head the government in Gujarat. In the first year of the new millennium, though a relatively prosperous state, Gujarat was facing problems because of several natural calamities having struck in the preceding years, including the massive earthquake in January 2001. Once again Modi took the bull by the horns and decided to convert the adversities into an opportunity. He developed a clear vision of his own for the future of the state, re-organised the government’s administrative structure, embarked upon a massive cost-cutting exercise and successfully put Gujarat on the road to growth in a short period of three years. Gujarat registered a GDP growth rate of over 10%, which was the highest growth rate among all the states in India.

Narendra Modi has, during the first three years of his tenure (October 2001 to December 2004) as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, successfully reduced the fiscal deficit of the state exchequer by fifty per cent and has slashed the losses of the huge public utility (Gujarat Electricity Board), besides making available electricity for domestic consumption in over 5,000 villages. Perhaps the most important achievement of his government has been successful raising of the height of the crucial Narmada Dam from 95 to 110.64 metre in two quick bursts of activity, which lasted about two months each. The increased height has resulted in waters finally flowing to practically all parts of the state and commissioning of the hydro-electric power generation facility at the dam. In addition, several drinking water schemes had been completed and the problem of water scarcity is virtually on it’s way to extinction. Value of the agricultural output of Gujarat has grown by over one hundred percent during the first three years of the Narendra Modi government.

When the Narendra Modi government was sworn-in on October 7, 2001, the economy of Gujarat was reeling under the adverse effects of several natural calamities, including a gigantic earthquake in January 2001. Having put the economy back on an even keel in a short period of three years, the government had reason to feel sanguine about its performance.

In February of 2002, India experienced its greatest human rights crisis in decades: orchestrated violence against Muslims in the state of Gujarat that claimed at least 2,000 lives in a matter of days. In its April 29, 2002 issue, India Today wrote on its cover: "A culpable Modi becomes the new inspiration for the BJP even as this offends its allies, infuriates the Opposition and divides the nation." Three years after that horrific incident, Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat has been indicted by various Indian and International human rights organizations for lending his hand to the violence. Numerous inquiries and commissions, such as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India, have held that Narendra Modi, as the chief executive of the state, had complete command over the police and other law enforcement machinery during February 28 through March 02, 2002. They have condemned the role of the Government of Gujarat headed by Modi in providing leadership and material support in the politically motivated attacks on minorities in Gujarat. The European Union, and every major Indian and international human rights organization: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Commonwealth Initiative for Human Rights, Citizen’s Initiative, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), have condemned the Gujarat violence, and pointed to the complicity of the Government of Gujarat in the execution of the event.

In December 2002, elections were held a few months ahead of schedule and the Narendra Modi government was voted back to power with a massive majority of 128 in a house of 182. This victory was even more impressive than what is suggested by the figures because of the fact that the opposition Congress party had concentrated it’s nationwide resources on the Gujarat elections. Skilfully wading his way through the onslaught of a massive campaign unleashed by the opposition Congress party, Mr Modi dealt a convincing and crushing defeat to the principal opposition party, the magnitude of which stunned friends and foes alike. On December 22, 2002, he was sworn-in as the chief minister of Gujarat for the second time. The ceremony had to be held in an open-air stadium because of the sheer number of people who wanted to watch and hear the leader they had so defiantly chosen to elect.

Popular and progressive, a poet and author of three books, tech-savvy and a true democrat in every sense of the word, Mr Narendra Modi is one of the most easily accessible political leaders in India. A leader who believes in team-work, Mr Modi has launched an ambitious training programme for the 500,000 government employees in Gujarat which is being watched in awe by every other state and is in for replication through out the nation. A true Karmayogi (doer), Mr Modi refuses to be cowed down by disasters and disturbances and is successfully leading his state on the path to economic growth. His trail-blazing efforts have yielded rich dividends for the economy of the state and Gujarat’s successful inter-linking of its rivers has finally resulted in the central government seriously considering replication of the experiment at the national level.

Widely regarded as a youthful and energetic leader with innovative thoughts, Modi successfully communicated his vision to the people of Gujarat and has been able to impart faith, trust and hope among the 50 million people of Gujarat. With the successful conclusion of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in January 2005, image of the state as a preferred investment destination among global investors has taken a quantum leap. A skilled orator and a deft negotiator, Narendra Modi is an able and visionary leader who is effectively and convincingly uplifting the quality of lives.

The Congress and the BJP for their own reasons avoided mentioning the 2002 riots in the 2009 Gujarat election. A common refrain amongst almost all Gujaratis is that the state has "moved on" since the riots, and that people -- especially outsiders -- should confine the riots to an aberration in history. Modi's popularity -- and the widespread, latent support among Gujarati Hindus for the riots -- has made the raising of the 2002 violence an unpopular political issue. Both BJP and Congress sympathizers agreed that attacking Modi on this front only served to galvanize his base and lionize him as a martyr. The Congress avoided this issue during the December 2007 assembly elections precisely to avoid alienating Hindu voters who might otherwise be persuaded to vote for the Congress.

In March 2005 the United States government denied a visa to Narendra Modi , Chief Minister of Gujarat, due to the state government's complicity in the massacre of Muslims there and his insensitive statements about minorities. His visa was revoked under the law that prohibits those responsible for violations of religious freedom from getting visas.

According to the 25 March 2005 issue of India-West [one of the most influential Indian-American weekly newspapers in the United States], the denial of a visa to Mr. Modi was met with attacks from the Indian government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who, as a Sikh, is a member of a religious minority himself, complained in Parliament that "we do not believe it is appropriate ..... to make a subjective judgment question a constitutional authority in India." The Foreign Ministry said that the denial of Mr. Modi's visa "is uncalled for and displays lack of courtesy and sensitivity toward a constitutionally elected chief minister of a state of India." They completely neglected to mention Modi's lack of courtesy and sensitivity towards the 2,000 or more Muslims killed in the riots that his government helped organize in 2002. India's Human Rights Commission held Mt. Modi and his government responsible for the massacre.

On 19 March 2005 in New Delhi, India-West reported, fanatical Hindu nationalist fundamentalists affiliated with the militant organization Bajrang Dal rioted against the United States because Modi was denied his visa. They barged into a Pepsi-Cola warehouse, smashed bottles of Pepsi, and set fire to the building. The warehouse was partially burned. About a dozen workers fled. The rioters also ransacked a nearby Pepsi office. Another group protested the U.S. consulate in Bombay. They carried signs reading "Down With the United States." Some Bajrang Dal members tried to enter the visa application center in Ahmedabad. Modi himself said, "Let us pledge to work for such a day that an American would have to stand in line for entry into Gujarat." He accused the United States of trying to "impose its laws on other countries." He urged India to deny visas to American officials.

Modi himself has not been shy about proudly professing his anti-Christian, anti-Muslim, and anti-tribal stances. He has repeatedly dehumanized the Muslim population of his state by accusing them of treachery; he has actively sought to interfere in the practice of the Christian faith in Gujarat, and he has caused wide-scale displacement of indigenous populations in the State in the face of stiff popular resistance.

In December 2012 25 U.S. congressmen wrote a letter to Secretary Clinton requesting her to continue the U.S. policy of not granting a visa to the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. On 07 December 2012 Mark Toner, State Department Deputy Spokesperson, stated that " I can also confirm there’s no change in U.S. policy.... I’m not going to get into specific questions regarding visas. I’m just going to say there’s no change in our position." On April 4, 2013, Victoria Nuland, State Department Spokesperson, stated that "With regard to Mr. Modi, our lines have not changed here. He is welcome to apply."

On July 24, 2013, Jen Psaki, State Department Spokesperson, stated "... our policy on this has not changed. If Chief Minister Modi applies for a visa, his application will be considered to determine whether he qualifies for a visa in accordance with U.S. immigration law and policy. But as you know, we don’t talk about the specifics of that process or individual cases. But he would, of course, be considered if he were to apply." One reporters noted that Cogress Party is very unpopular among the people of India, and it might lose the election, and Mr. Modi might become the Prime Minister of India. Then what happens? Jen Psaki responded "... that’s a lot of speculation down the road. We always encourage democratic elections and we don’t take sides, and we’ll be watching it closely.... we will consider his application if he applies. And we’re not going to get ahead of where we are at this time."

The US Ambassador to India met Indian opposition leader Narendra Modi 13 February 2014, ending a near decade-long boycott of the man who is the frontrunner to be India’s next prime minister. The Hindu nationalist leader was denied a U.S. visa in 2005 over his role in sectarian violence which swept his state in 2002. Television pictures showed U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi exchanging a cordial handshake before they sat down for discussions Thursday in Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat state headed by the Indian opposition leader. The handshake was prompted by the probability that Modi could head India’s next government. The US was among several countries which shunned the B.J.P. leader over allegations that he did not do enough to stop riots which swept through Gujarat in 2002 and killed nearly 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. Modi denies the accusations.

Modi prioritized development with almost religious zeal. Even critics and detractors concede that Modi, for all his many faults, has delivered a more efficient administration, a less corrupt state government, impressive rural progress and visible infrastructure development. While Modi gets the credit for the implementation of many economic development programs, most were already in place or in motion before the BJP came to power. Modi consistently kept the Congress on the defensive; his proactive approach to governance -- some say autocratic -- has sometimes alienated followers and groups, but has largely endeared him to the majority of Gujarati who are eager for development and growth, and who admire a strong regional leader. Despite the controversy from the 2002 riots, many major business leaders, such as Ratan Tata, Sunil Mittal, Mukesh Ambani, and the Birlas, have publicly endorsed Modi as their preferred candidate for Prime Minister.

Modi was elected prime minister on 16 May 2014. Modi was elected as India’s Prime Minister in what was called “the biggest exercise of democracy on the planet.” The excitement over the promise of economic freedom and prosperity spurred over 550 million people to vote, representing a record turnout of 66 percent.

Modi was long famous for being a bachelor without any family. Modi had repeatedly said that his lack of family makes him an ideal politician. "I am single, who will I be corrupt for?" he told a campaign rally in February 2014. He told his biographer that he enjoyed "loneliness."

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is a strict Hindu organization that is reported to require a vow of celibacy. Modi responed to an inner call to work for the nation and the society inspired by the teachings of Swami Vivekanand.

The relationship status of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was always a matter of intense media speculation. Modi is in fact married, though he gave his vows almost 50 years ago. Jashodaben Chimanlal Modi, now a retired school teacher, married Modi when they were 17 and 18 due to an arrangement between their parents. They were a couple for three years before separating. It was said the marriage was forced on Modi by his parents when he was a teenager in keeping with the old orthodox tradition of fixing marriages between children and that it was never consummated as Modi walked out of the marriage soon after it was solemnised.

In his election affidavit filed in 2014 during the parliamentary polls, Narendra Modi had mentioned Jashodaben's name as his spouse. After he became the Prime Minister, Jashodaben was given security cover with four police constables posted her residence.

Modi understood that he did not have the institutional control to unleash his agenda of transforming the nation in his first term. Modi proceeded to expand his popular base in a more traditional Indian manner by fashioning himself as a “leader of the poor.” Breaking away from his pro-business image, Modi began constructing a refurbished welfare regime, which the prominent economist Arvind Subramaniam, among others, dubbed “New Welfarism” - subsidized public provision of essential goods and services, normally provided by the private sector, such as bank accounts, cooking gas, toilets, electricity, and housing. These tangible goods were straightforward to deliver, measure, and monitor, as opposed to intangible welfare goods such as health, education, and nutrition, which were largely ignored. Louise Tillin observed the marked increase in Indians crediting welfare schemes to the center (as opposed to the states) since 2014.

As Asim Ali noted in March 2021 : " Modi continued to nurture a degree of ambiguity toward the BJP’s Hindutva agenda. That agenda was deputed to those below him. The most telling moment in this regard was when Modi handed over the politically key state of Uttar Pradesh to a blustering Hindu monk, Yogi Adityanath, whose only claim to fame was his unabashed baiting of Muslims. The Hindutva agenda was also outsourced to the numerous affiliates of the sprawling Sangh Parivar, who kept communal tensions boiling at the grassroots. Notwithstanding all of this, at the formal level, except for meddling in educational institutions, the central government largely kept clear of its own Hindutva agenda during Modi’s first term. If the Brand Modi was composed of softer Hindutva and social welfare in the first term, it now represents hard Hindutva and economic aspirations."

In September 2015, Baba Ramdev termed Prime Minister Narendra Modi as "vikas-purush" (man of development). Modi presents himself not merely as an economic reformer or a social welfare populist, but as a nation builder — or rebuilder — a “saffron Nehru.”

In India, sporting a beard has always been seen as carrying a message. Political analysts say that it signals masculinity and some also pointed out that it signals asceticism. If one may recall, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted to renounce the worldly affairs and aspired to become a monk.

Modi had not shaved his beard since the time the COVID-19 pandemic began, the look could perhaps be a signal of him trying to send the message that he is staying indoors. Not just this, as he has asking the citizens to stay indoors and wear a mask, the PM is also seen always sporting a simple khadi scarf and sometimes a gamusa (traditional piece of cloth or towel and an identifiable cultural signifier of the Assamese community), which he uses to cover his mouth and nose. This look of his has been emulated by othe rpoliticians including Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao. With the PM sporting long hair and a long beard, speculations are rife — some say he is practising social distancing, and that’s why he will not have a barber around. Modi made sure that he looked like a grand old leader who not only governs India but, now, was most likely its ideological-philosophical head who was going to lead the nation towards ‘dharma’ (faith) and ‘moksha’ (nirvana).

To reinforce his image of a philosopher king, Modi has grown his hair and beard to such an extent as to appear more like an itinerant Hindu sage rather than a modern politician. Modi’s ambition is no less than to be seen as India’s most transformative political leader post-independence, the architect of a “new India.” In his own words, the “new Parliament will prove to be a testament to a new and atma-nirbhar (self-reliant) India.” Therefore, just as most Indian public places carry the names of Nehru and Gandhi, the symbols of the old India, it is fitting that the grand monuments of new India should carry the name of its most powerful symbol. Modi’s triumph at the national stage was the culmination of a long-term ideological realignment of Indian politics along the axis of “ethnic majoritarianism.” Modi’s politics is imbued with what the political scientist Morris Jones referred to as the “saintly idiom” of Indian politics: a messianic figure, claiming to be unattached to family and material possessions, an instrument of the historical purpose of securing for India its lost glory.

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Page last modified: 06-06-2021 18:15:57 ZULU