Meet Narendra Modi: India's Prime Minister–Elect
May 16, 2014
May 16, 2014
3 Min read time
Photo: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi (April 24, 2012) / Wikimedia
The conservative and Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has achieved a landslide victory in India's national elections, overcoming decades of electoral dominance by the Congress Party and its coalition partners. BJP candidate Narendra Modi is poised to become the next Prime Minister of the world's largest democracy. Modi is known for his stern demeanor, the economic success of his home district, Gujarat, where he has been chief minister since 2001. Modi has also been accused of standing idly by while more than 1000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in a 2002 anti-Muslim riot. In 2004, Martha Nussbaum wrote about the mutilation of women in Gujarat during these riots, and in 2009 she covered anti-Muslim violence from the Hindu right. Last year, Zahir Janmohamed reviewed Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay's biography of Modi for the BR Web site. Janmohamed declared that a Modi victory appeared “impossible.” An influx of 100 million new registered voters, many of them young and urban, seems to have changed the political landscape in the BJP's favor. Here's a brief excerpt:
Narendra Damodardas Modi was born on September 17, 1950 in Vadnagar, then a part of the Bombay state that later split into two, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Modi’s father was a tea vendor, his mother a homemaker, and Modi spent much of his childhood working alongside his father. But it was not a happy childhood, he tells Mukhopadhyay: “I had a lot of pain because I grew up in a village where there was no electricity and in my childhood we used to face a lot of hardships because of this.”
Modi showed a fondness for the Hindu right wing group the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as a child. The RSS was started in 1925 as a Hindu nationalist movement and reached infamy in 1948 when one of its members, Nathuram Godse, assassinated Gandhi. It was declared a terrorist group immediately after by the Indian government and banned for two years. But today it remains as strong—and hardline—as ever.
There are an estimated 40,000 RSS camps, or shakhas, across the country where Hindu men and young boys gather each morning to chant slogans and perform a series of exercises, often using a long stick. In the landmark report on the 2002 Gujarat riots, “We Have No Orders to Save You,” Human Rights Watch said it was the RSS that was responsible for passing out lists of Muslim-owned business and homes to mobs at the start of the violence.
It was at these camps that Modi’s ideas about the world were formed. Modi's brother, Somabhai, tells Mukhopadhyay that “[Modi] was always greatly impressed by the fact that only one person gave all the orders in the [RSS camp] and everyone followed the command.”
Modi also developed, as Mukhopadhyay writes, “a strong hatred towards the Congress,” the political party that has rule India for most of its post-1947 independence. Modi tells Mukhopadhyay that the anti-Congress sentiment in the mid-1950s was so intense that it “impacted even the mind of the child that I was at the time.” This is the unique thing about Modi—instead of speaking about his poor childhood or his blue collar roots, Modi often talks about his childhood being framed by the trauma of being ruled by the Congress party. For Modi, the problem with the Congress party is not that it is pro-Muslim but that it is not pro-Hindu. Modi has also never forgiven the Congress party for side stepping one of its members, Sardar Patel, a native of Gujarat, in favor of making Jawaharlal Nehru India’s first prime minister. It is partly for this reason that today Modi is erecting statue of Patel in Gujarat that will be taller than the Statue of Liberty. For Mukhopadhyay, it is Modi’s way of announcing a not so subtle message: Gujarat’s proudest son is Sardar Patel, not Gandhi.
Read the rest of the essay here.
While we have you...
...we need your help. You might have noticed the absence of paywalls at Boston Review. We are committed to staying free for all our readers. Now we are going one step further to become completely ad-free. This means you will always be able to read us without roadblocks or barriers to entry. It also means that we count on you, our readers, for support. If you like what you read here, help us keep it free for everyone by making a donation. No amount is too small. You will be helping us cultivate a public sphere that honors pluralism of thought for a diverse and discerning public.
May 16, 2014
3 Min read time