Despite Controversial Past, Indian PM Candidate Narendra Modi's Star on the Rise

BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addressing the crowd during 'Lalkar rally' in Jammu, India. Image by Amarjeet Singh. Copyright Demotix (1/12/2013)

BJP candidate for prime minister Narendra Modi addresses the crowd during the ‘Lalkar rally’ in Jammu, India. Image by Amarjeet Singh. Copyright Demotix (1/12/2013)

General elections are scheduled to take place in April 2014 in India, and many of the same old players are expected to appear on the ballot. But over the last few years, corruption scandals, rape and several cases of maladministration have led many Indians to lose hope in the existing political parties.

The centrist Indian National Congress party has formed the Indian government since 2004. Although this has given the country a measure of stability, the party's ministers have also been involved in several cases of corruption involving the Commonwealth games, coal mining and 3G licensing to mobile service providers. Additionally, the increasing number of cases of violence against women has made it clear that the common man is now done with bad governance.

Recent state-level elections in New Delhi saw the new Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), an offshoot of the anti-corruption campaign launched by social activist Anna Hazare a couple of years ago, emerged in second behind the country's other main party, the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party is barely a year old and is already posing a threat to stalwarts like the Congress.

Amid the fray is one candidate for prime minister, the chief minister of India's western state Gujarat Narendra Modi from BJP, who seems to be using the people's dissatisfaction to his advantage. A polemic figure for his hotly debated role in the deadly 2002 riots in the state between Hindus and Muslims, he's popular in the business world, and seems to be the only option for voters who neither want to depend only a new political party like AAP nor want to vote for the Congress.

In fact, even AAP members like former police officer Kiran Bedi seem to be rooting for him:

“Indian bosses have become so fed up with the status quo that they are prepared to overlook Modi's past,” writes blogger Schumpeter for the Economist. This is also true for Indian businessmen, regardless of Modi's confusing role during the Godhra riots.

Modi is also said to have a huge support base among the young Indian IT generation, several of whom actively assist him with his online campaign, especially:

Secular India on the line?

But some believe that Modi may pose a threat to India's secular heritage.

In 2002, riots broke out in Gujarat's Godhra after a train carrying Hindus was burnt down as it was coming from the holy city of Ayodhya in North India. What followed was the worse example of Hindi-Muslim violence in India's recent history. Between 900 and 2,000 people were killed, more than whom were Muslim, including Muslim politicians and businessmen.

Modi, who was chief minister of the state at the time, was cleared of any wrongdoing in the handling of the violence by authorities, but still some accused him of involvement in a conspiracy or not taking enough action. Several commissions have been set up with the intention of bringing the guilty to justice. As of April 2013, 249 convictions had been secured, 184 Hindus and 65 Muslims, while some victims still await justice

Although, what Modi achieved in his last re-election as the chief minister of Gujarat deserves a mention. A documentary by noted Indian television journalist Barkha Dutt revealed that Modi's government managed to garner support from Muslim businessmen who were able to revitalize their businesses after the Godhra carnage. The Open magazine also reports how Modi has managed to reach out to Muslims “like never before“.

But what future does a prime minister like Modi hold for India? In a column in the Financial Express, Mahesh Vyas of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy claims that investments in Gujarat post-2002 have only reached around 13 percent of the total investments in India, as compared to 21 percent before the Godhra riots. Additionally, the economic boom has not been equal in all regions of the state.

Others remain wary because of his leadership during the riots and his membership with BJP, a right-wing Hindu party.

The people of India have a tough choice to make ahead of them.

A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that the Indian National Congress party has formed the Indian government since 2006. In fact, they have headed the Indian government since 2004. Thanks to commenter Amit Gupta for the correction.


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