Narenda Modi (1950-) is an Indian politician and the front-runner to be India’s next prime minister.
A man of humble origins, Modi was born in a family belonging to the low Ghanchi caste, also known as “other backward class”. As a child, he worked with his father selling tea at railway stages and by the age of 8, he volunteered to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), “a movement whose purpose was to see India remade as a Hindu state”.
Modi built his political career in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is based on right-wing Hindu nationalist ideals and represents today India’s second largest political force. He dedicated the last twenty years to the local government of Gujarat and the success of his economic policies made him gain national attention. Indeed, some even talk about a ‘Modinomics’ model.
Today chief minister of the Gujarat state, Modi is also the most likely future prime minister of India.
Despite his marriage with Jashodaben Chimanlal when he was only 13, Modi claims to have no family and uses his celibate as a political argument. At a time when India has been hit by countless corruption scandals, Modi embodies the figure of the last honest politician, claiming that because he has no family, he has no one that would profit from his election.
Yet, his populist rhetoric has its flaws. First, the economic success of Gujarat is challenged by many. Although many claim that Gujarat has become one of the most business-friendly states of India, others question its inclusiveness.
Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen points that Gujarat’s infant-mortality is more than three times that of Kerala, a much poorer state. And for Christophe Jaffrelot, a political scientist from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris specialized in India, the Gujarati Muslims are facing much worse working conditions that other Gujaratis.
Another controversy surrounding the candidate is that Modi was investigated for complicity in the wake of the 2002 communal violences, a mass killing against the minority Muslim population in the state of Gujarat. He was cleared of all charges in 2011 but his lack of rapid reaction at the time of the events is certainly criticized by many.
If you’re interested in knowing a bit more about (probably) one of the most powerful future world leaders, don’t miss The Economist last week edition “Can anyone stop Narendra Modi?” and the Washington Post “The two views of India’s Narendra Modi”.
In The Economist’s words, “If economics alone mattered, Mr Modi’s achievements in Gujarat suggest he is the man best placed to get India moving again. The problem is that political leaders are responsible for more. For all his crowds of supporters, his failures in 2002, and his refusal since to atone for them, or even address them, leave him a badly compromised candidate with much left to do”.
You can also read Rosa Perez’s article on The JR Chronicle about the indian elections, in case you missed it.