Why Narendra Modi is India’s Most Loved and Loathed Politician

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Narendra Modi is on the cover of TIME this week in South Asia, available to subscribers here. Modi is the most polarizing politician in India, rarely gives interviews and is a possible future prime minister, but it bears repeating that putting Modi on the cover is not an endorsement. Researching and eventually interviewing Modi was, however, fascinating, and yielded several surprises.

The road to his office in Gandhinagar, a smooth, featureless four-lane highway, held the first one: Modi ordered the demolition of about 120 small Hindu shrines to make room for it, despite vehement objections from his Hindu nationalist allies. Modi may be portrayed as an ideologue, but he is more complicated than that. “He’s the only leader in the country who would be able to destroy a temple and get away with it, and still be called acceptable in Hindu politics,” says Tridip Suhrud, a social scientist based in Ahmedabad.

Modi’s reaction to my questions about his childhood was also surprising. He didn’t romanticize Vadnagar, the town where he grew up. He had little to say about his “very average family,” whose entire house, he says, could fit into the chief minister’s office. He left home at 17 to join the RSS, so he doesn’t have the polish of those politicians educated in elite institutions, but his English was nearly flawless, and he clearly believes in the power of the individual to educate, improve and reinvent himself. “I have never gone to college,” Modi says. “But books were my best friends.”

Most of the story weighs the two sides of the central paradox of Modi’s rise: for some, he will always be the man who presided over the 2002 anti-Muslim violence, and there are millions who will never forgive him and hope that he will eventually face criminal charges. (Modi has always denied any wrongdoing, and said he did the best that he could to protect the people of his state.) For others, 2002 is a distant memory, and Modi is fully rehabilitated as a paragon of good governance and effective administration. Those may seem like two irreconcilable halves, but spend any time in Gujarat, and both are simultaneously visible.

I first met Virendra Mhaiskar, CEO of the road building company IRB, for example, while researching a story on infrastructure in India. “Mr. Modi is looked upon with different lenses in different parts of the world,” Mhaiskar told me. He recalled submitting a $42 million bid to complete a section of Ahmedabad’s excellent bus rapid-transit system. The entire bidding process was done online — no cups of tea with mid-level bureaucrats, no photo-ops with local politicians. “Even today, I don’t know who the mayor is,” he says.

It’s possible to find similar sentiments even among Muslims. “What happened in Gujarat 10 years back was the darkest phase in the history of Gujarat,” says Mohsin Sheikh, 56, an artist who lives in the Muslim enclave of Sarkhej in Ahmedabad. “I am hopeful that the victims will soon get justice. At the same time, I think that everyone should try to forget what happened a decade back and move on. Gujarat’s development is benefiting not just one community but all the people of Gujarat, irrespective of caste and religion.” That’s the argument that Modi will have to make if he ever wants to win national office: that economic development is more important than court verdicts or compensation, and that he can deliver growth and prosperity for everyone.

With the Congress Party-led coalition facing wide criticism for corruption and ineffectiveness, Modi’s chances look good. But he will also have to overcome opposition within his own party. During a decade as chief minister, he has earned quite a few enemies. “He believes that if you really want to do certain things, you cannot waste time in discussions and compromising,” says Ghanshyam Shah, a political scientist in Ahmedabad. Those who challenged him, including ministers in his own cabinet, were shut out, and Modi refused to allow them to stand for election on BJP tickets. One faction split off into a new party; another group defected to the opposition. By the end of 2006, Modi had effectively replaced the entire political leadership of the state with those loyal to him. “In Gujarat, the BJP became Modi – one voice,” says Shah. “Anyone who had a different voice had no place within the party.” That approach has left Modi alienated within his own party, but he’ll need the BJP machinery to actually run a national campaign. Even if he doesn’t become prime minister, Modi offers a glimpse of what India might be like if it became, as some of its critics wish, a little more like China. He represents a new kind of Indian politician — democratically elected but authoritarian in style and spirit. “The future belongs to him,” says Suhrud. “The future belongs to that kind of politics.”

—With reporting by Sagheer Mahdi/Ahmedabad

12 comments
hirasharma
hirasharma

MODi's personality is being judged differently and commented uponas per their own perceptions, by members of opposition parties, his party members, hindus, muslims, sikhs and Christians  living in India and abroad  and the national and international media. In the context I am reproducing the story of blind men and the elephant

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today."

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway." All of them went where the elephant was. Every one of them touched the elephant.

Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who touched his leg.

"Oh, no! it is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail.

"Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who touched the trunkof the elephant.

"It is like a big hand fan" said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

"It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

"It is like a solid pipe," Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and every one of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, "What is the matter?" They said, "We cannot agree to what the elephant is like." Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said."

"Oh!" everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

The moral of the story is that there may be some truth to what someone says. Sometimes we can see that truth and sometimes not because they may have different perspective which we may not agree too. So, rather than arguing like the blind men, we should say, "Maybe you have your reasons." This way we don’t get in arguments.


Accept MODIJI   as PM of this great nation without indulging in fruitless arguments 

francislmonteir
francislmonteir

He should first love his country and fellow citizens more than his religion.He should not bow to RSS

zehaseeb
zehaseeb

A mass murderer cannot hide behind hyped up Eulogies of Development which are not entirely true. The STATE SPONSORED GUJARAT GENOCIDE can never be forgotten and it will certainly be listed in the annals of history! Quite a few many obnoxious and stupid people are making ridiculously ABSURD suggestions that this should forgotten and forgiven!!! Some miscreants caused Godhra and undoubtedly they should be severely punished, BUT what was the reason that innocent people in Ahmedabad and elsewhere in Gujrat were targeted with impeccable planning by VHP/RSS/BJP/Bajrang Dal GOONS. The fact is that it was pre-planned and those FANATICS were just waiting for a pretext to go on a rampage with weapons that were readily available, complete with municipal information of the houses that were planned to be targeted. Heights of INHUMANITY were unleashed upon innocent people. Anybody with any humanity left, WILL NOT HAVE EVEN AN IOTA of compassion for this shame of a person, NARENDER MODI a SECOND HITLER. Evil Hitler too was adulated by his OWN like-minded people. Modi appeals to only those communal minded people who take pride and feel that they have taught the Muslims in Gujarat a lesson, & demoralized them. And this is the bitter truth, LIKE IT OR NOT!!! THE TRUTH WILL PREVAIL and HITLER MODI will be HANGED. Justice delayed is justice denied but it will be justice nonetheless.


I have specifically stated that it is the work of ‘VHP/RSS/BJP/Bajrang Dal GOONS’, the atrocities committed at that time were not possible to be the work of the common man. Many feel that the facts about innocent people COOKED alive are untrue and COOKED UP but it is a fact that the whole cover up for MODI has been COOKED UP. Leave alone Muslims, many Hindus also don't want this mass murderer to be the PM of our beloved country. People can research and ascertain their facts on YOUTUBE by searching for GUJARAT RIOTS and viewing the first video, 'The Final Solution', that comes up which is a 2 hour long documentary by RAKESH SHARMA. Also available are the numerous sting operations on Babu Bajrangi, BJP MLA Harish Bhatt etc... there are many Modi Chamchas who have unwittingly spilled the beans on their insidious and downright wicked boss Modi as to what had happened in 2002. The only people who can ever think GOOD of HITLER MODI are those who have been misled and are ignorant of his wrongdoings OR THOSE WHO ARE PROUD of the way he targeted the Gujarati Muslims in 2002.

ModiUSVisa
ModiUSVisa

We have launched a petition to request President Obama to reconsider US Administration’s stand on Mr. Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat, India.
                                                                                     
Please visit http://www.modi360.com to review and sign this petition.

MadhavSingh
MadhavSingh

Nothing new  is being written about here but mere one sided hard core narrative, invented, nurtured, promoted by die hard Left Wing promoters of India, who deeply fear loss of their eternal nuisance value and importance to mess around endlessly. 

kunalsinha4u
kunalsinha4u

Seriously? Rarely gives interviews? You been in space?

DonnieVerma
DonnieVerma

Narendra Modi is here to lead India by PROVIDENCE. India and its bureaucracy has become so much corrupt that it needs a person like MODI to correct it. For development you need MODI ............... for his working is result-oriented and not of appeasement. 

ChiragPatel
ChiragPatel

That s what i was talking about... 

SujitK
SujitK

@francislmonteir  Why not bow to RSS??...Mr Modi left his home at the age of 17. And then on started a new journey with RSS as his family. I doubt there exists any organization other than RSS which loves India as much as RSS does.