The Man Who Is India's Future Has His Own Checkered Past



Narendra-modi
Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and India's next prime minister Narendra Modi greets the gathering at the home of his 90-year-old mother in Gandhinagar, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, Friday, May 16, 2014.

CHENNAI, India — Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi is poised to become India’s new prime minister as his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured one of India’s most decisive elections in more than a quarter century. Modi and the BJP will take over a government that's not only besieged with charges of corruption and nepotism, but one that's also accused of slowing India’s economic growth.
The 550 million votes that were cast over a six-week period were counted on Friday. The BJP is expected to win 282 of the 543 seats to the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of Parliament. The victory means the toppling of the Indian National Congress (INC), which has led India for most of the past 67 years.

In what is a first since the election succeeding the 1984 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, a single party — the BJP — has emerged with a majority. Its victory, while partly a product of poor governance by the outgoing United Progressive Alliance (headed by the INC), has been secured by the impressive nation-wide campaign led by Modi, who will take over as India’s 14th prime minister.
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BJP workers celebrating as election results showed a landslide win for BJP led NDA on May 16, 2014 in Ranchi, India.
IMAGE: DIWAKAR PRASAD/HINDUSTAN TIMES VIA GETTY IMAGES

Modi’s rise from a questionable past

Modi is a hugely divisive figure. His rise to the top has been both improbable and meteoric. As a young boy who helped his father sell tea in a small town in the western Indian state of Gujarat, he was enamored by the philosophy of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is a Hindu right-wing organization that has drawn inspiration from, among others, Nazi Germany.
He spent his initial years running chores for the RSS top brass, but Modi slowly began to gain a reputation as a conscientious worker with a keen eye for politics. In 1985, the RSS lent Modi to the BJP, a party closely aligned to the Sangh in ideology. Here, Modi steadily rose up the ranks, using his excellent organizational abilities to help strategize victories for the party in Gujarat.
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Narendra Modi greets supporters after casting his vote in Gujarat state elections in December 2002.
In 2001, Modi became the chief minister of Gujarat, a role somewhat akin to the governor of an American state. He won three consecutive terms in the state, largely campaigning on a supposed plank of economic growth and industrialization. But his time as chief minister of Gujarat is marred by a statewide riot in 2002 in which nearly 1,000 people, mostly Muslim, were massacred by Hindu mobs.
Gujarat-Riots-2002

Hindu mobs attacked Muslims across Gujarat in February and March 2002, burning homes and businesses in deadly riots. Modi has never apologized nor taken responsibility for the tragedy.
IMAGE: MANISH SWARUP/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Critics allege that Modi oversaw the riots by offering — if not explicit support — a tacit approval to the mob. He is yet to be completely exonerated of all wrongdoing even though a special investigation team, appointed by India’s Supreme Court, has found the evidence against him to be insufficient. The report, however, has been criticized for ignoring a “wide spectrum of disturbing circumstantial evidence.” Modi has, so far, offered no apology — let alone an explanation — for the incident.

The campaign

In his campaign for the recent elections, Modi restricted his pitch to the economy. He promised to build new roads, expand India’s manufacturing capacity, plug inflation and create jobs for the struggling masses. For a newly formed middle class, suddenly hampered by a flailing economy, Modi’s vision offers a fresh hope.

India's middle class believes that, as an authoritarian figure, Modi can help cut red tape and control corruption.
India's middle class believes that, as an authoritarian figure, Modi can help cut red tape and control corruption.In Gujarat, according to many popular accounts, Modi has helped revive a flailing economy. India’s young voters, disillusioned by the ruling Congress party’s indecision and dishonesty, expect Modi to replicate Gujarat’s success across the nation.

Modi’s critics, however, worry that he will further polarize the country and will do little to assuage the fears of the minority population. Even in his native state, Muslims feel unequal. They believe the growth of the state has been non-inclusive. In fact, according to some critics, the figures presented by the Gujarat government exaggerate the growth made by the state.
Modi’s policies, as the nobel lauerate economist Amartya Sen has argued, however suffers from a lack of social welfare. Gujarat lags behind, in Sen'e estimation in the fields of education and healthcare and breeds greater gender inequality than many other Indian states.

Modi and the U.S.

In 2005, the U.S. government denied Modi a visa to visit the country over his suspected role in the 2002 riots in Gujarat. Shortly after the riots, the New York Times asked Modi if he wished he had handled the riots any differently. He told the newspaper that his only regret was that he failed to handle the media better.
''We have 18,600 villages,'' he told the Times. ''Ninety-eight percent of Gujarat was peaceful. Is it not a credit for the administration, the government?''
But Modi’s relationship with the U.S. already appears to be changing. He met with the U.S. Ambassador to India in February, and on Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Modi, tweeting that he looks forward to “growing shared prosperity.”
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What does India have in store?

In granting the BJP a huge mandate, voters have looked beyond Modi’s fundamental philosophical leanings and his flawed record in ensuring a secular atmosphere. This might ensure a stable government with a wherewithal to fix the economy. But if Modi feels compelled to return to his Hindu national past (which many believe is an integral part of his governance model), this might also prove too costly for India’s status as a liberal, inclusive society.
Suhrith Parthasarathy is a lawyer and journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be reached on Twitter @suhrith.
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    Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters celebrate the party’s winning preliminary result outside their office in Gauhati, India, Friday, May 16, 2014. India's opposition leader Narendra Modi and his party won national elections in a landslide Friday, preliminary results showed, driving the long-dominant Congress party out of power in the most commanding victory India has seen in more than a quarter century.
    IMAGE: ANUPAM NATH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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    Indian Trinamool Congress (TMC) party supporters celebrate the party's election results near the residence of party supremo and West Bengal state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata on May 16, 2014. India's triumphant Hindu nationalists declared "a new era" in the world's biggest democracy May 16 after hardline leader Narendra Modi propelled them to the biggest win in 30 years on promises to revitalise the economy.
    IMAGE: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
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    An Indian family follows election results on a television inside their home in Gauhati, India, Friday, May 16, 2014. Opposition leader Narendra Modi will be India's next prime minister, winning the most decisive election victory the country has seen in more than a quarter century and sweeping the long-dominant Congress party from power, partial results showed Friday.
    IMAGE: ANUPAM NATH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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    AHMEDABAD, INDIA - MAY 16: BJP workers celebrating outside BJP Headquarters in on May 16, 2014 in Ahmedabad, India. Recording its best ever performance in its 34-year existence, the BJP on its own was leading in 283 seats, eleven more than the required half-way mark in the 543-member House, while its allies were ahead in 49 seats.
    IMAGE: VIJAYANAND GUPTA/HINDUSTAN TIMES/GETTY IMAGES
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    Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and India's next prime minister Narendra Modi greets the media as he leaves the residence of his 90-year-old mother in Gandhinagar, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, Friday, May 16, 2014. Modi and his party won national elections in a landslide Friday, preliminary results showed, driving the long-dominant Congress party out of power in the most commanding victory India has seen in more than a quarter century. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party captured a commanding lead for at least 272 seats in the lower house of Parliament, the majority needed to create a government without forming a coalition with smaller parties.
    IMAGE: SAURABH DAS/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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    Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters dance to celebrate election results outside their party office in Bangalore, India, Friday, May 16, 2014. India's opposition leader Narendra Modi and his party won national elections in a landslide Friday, preliminary results showed, driving the long-dominant Congress party out of power in the most commanding victory India has seen in more than a quarter century.
    IMAGE: AIJAZ RAHI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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    A band of Indian musicians plays music for a group of paying customers who wanted to dance as they celebrate at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in New Delhi on May 16, 2014. India's triumphant Hindu nationalists declared "the start of a new era" in the world's biggest democracy after hardline BJP leader Narendra Modi propelled them to a stunning win on a platform of revitalizing the sickly economy.
    IMAGE: ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
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    Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters dance and burst firecrackers to celebrate the news of early election result trends in Allahabad, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Friday, May 16, 2014. India's opposition leader Narendra Modi and his party won national elections in a landslide Friday, preliminary results showed, driving the long-dominant Congress party out of power in the most commanding victory India has seen in more than a quarter century.
    IMAGE: RAJESH KUMAR SINGH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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    Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters hold a shivling, a symbolic representation of Hindu God Shiva, and celebrate preliminary results that showed the BJP winning by a landslide in Varanasi, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Friday, May 16, 2014. India's opposition leader Narendra Modi and his party won national elections in a landslide Friday, preliminary results showed, driving the long-dominant Congress party out of power in the most commanding victory India has seen in more than a quarter century. Modi's campaign was seen by many as a media and marketing coup for a man whose background ties him to bloodshed in his home state of Gujarat, where communal rioting in 2002 left more than 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslims. Modi is accused of doing little to stop the rampage, though he denies any wrongdoing and has never been charged with a crime.
    IMAGE: RAJESH KUMAR SINGH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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    Indian policemen on duty watch election results on television at a counting station in New Delhi, India, Friday, May 16, 2014. India's main Hindu nationalist party was making early gains Friday as officials began counting votes following the country's massive national election, with the opposition looking to end the ruling Congress party's decade-long reign. The Election Commission was expected to announce the results later in the day.
    IMAGE: MANISH SWARUP/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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    VADODARA, INDIA - MAY 16: BJP leader Narendra Modi gestures as a flower garland is placed around him before speaking to supporters after his landslide victory in elections on May 16, 2014 in Vadodara, India. Early indications from the Indian election results show Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party was ahead in 277 of India's 543 constituencies where over 550 million votes were made, making it the largest election in history.
    IMAGE: KEVIN FRAYER/GETTY IMAGES
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    CHANDIGARH, INDIA - MAY 16: An old BJP worker in a jubilant mood after the BJP Candidate from Chandigarh Kirron Kher leading from Chandigarh Lok Sabha Constancy at BJP office, Sector 33 on May 16, 2014 in Chandigarh, India. Kirron Kher defeated Congress's four-time MP and former Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal by a strong margin of 69,642 votes.
    IMAGE: KESHAV SINGH/HINDUSTAN TIMES/GETTY IMAGES
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    Supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi listen to his address from the rooftops during a public rally after Modi's victory in Vadodara on May 16, 2014. India's triumphant Hindu nationalists declared "a new era" in the world's biggest democracy Friday after hardline leader Narendra Modi propelled them to the biggest win in 30 years on promises to revitalise the economy.
    IMAGE: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
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    Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters light firecrackers to celebrate the party’s winning performance in the general elections in Varanasi, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Friday, May 16, 2014. The party's leader Narendra Modi will be India's next prime minister, winning the most decisive election victory the country has seen in more than a quarter century and sweeping the long-dominant Congress party from power, partial results showed Friday.
    IMAGE: RAJESH KUMAR SINGH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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    Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters set off firecrackers at Dashasamedh Ghat during the nightly Ganga Arti puja ceremony to celebrate the BJP's election results in Varanasi on May 16, 2014.The leaders of India's defeated Congress party, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, admitted personal responsibility for the disastrous election results which came after 10 years in power. "We understand that victory and loss is part of democracy," party president Sonia told reporters in New Delhi as preliminary figures showed the Congress heading for its worst ever performance. "We respect this decision. I take responsibility for this defeat," she added, in remarks echoed by her 43-year-old son, who led national campaigning for the first time. The leftist Congress has dominated Indian politics since independence, mostly with a member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty at its head. The famous bloodline has provided three prime ministers.
    IMAGE: SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES




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