Narendra Modi, who will soon be sworn in as India’s fourteenth Prime Minister, has swept to power in the world’s largest democracy with his Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP), romping home with 282 seats in the Lok Sabha, ten seats more than what was required for an absolute majority.
Modi was a propagandist for the RSS and soon caught the eye of members of the BJP. In 1988, Modi was elected as organising secretary of BJP's Gujarat branch, marking his formal entry into mainstream politics
A win for the BJP and Modi was never in doubt. What surprised many though was the scale of the landslide which reduced the Congress Party led by the Gandhis to a mere 44 seats in the 543 seat Parliament. The BJP can now govern in its own right without resorting to coalitions.
Modi has forced the world to sit up and take note. Western countries and their media had branded him as a ‘Hindu nationalist’ and were quick to question his human rights record. Now they have been compelled to deal with him as he holds the keys to the world’s second largest economy.
In the first flush of victory, Modi has been handed many plaudits. He has been hailed as a man who will transform the Indian economy based on what he achieved as Chief Minister of his home state, Gujarat - and has been compared to Russian leader Vladamir Putin for his assertive leadership style.
India’s first Prime Minister born after independence, the 63-year-old Narendra Damodardas Modi hails from Gujarat from a family with modest means. As a child and as a teenager, he ran a tea stall near a bus station with his brother.
After taking a break from his studies - a time which he spent travelling in the Himalayas - Modi completed his education, gaining his first degree in Political Science from the Delhi University and a master’s degree on the same subject from the Gujarat University.
Modi’s involvement in politics began when he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang (RSS) as a young man. The RSS was formed as a paramilitary Hindu nationalist group. It was one of its members, Nathuram Godse, who assassinated the ‘father’ of modern India, Mahatma Gandhi.
Modi was a propagandist for the RSS and soon caught the eye of members of the BJP. In 1988, Modi was elected as organising secretary of BJP's Gujarat branch, marking his formal entry into mainstream politics. As secretary, his electoral strategy was central to BJP's victory in the 1995 state elections.
In 2001, Modi was appointed the Chief Minister of Gujarat, replacing Keshubhai Patel who was ailing. Despite allegations of abuse of power, corruption and poor administration against Patel and the BJP, Modi was able to turn around popular sentiment and win elections in 2002.
In February 2002, a train with several hundred passengers including large numbers of Hindu pilgrims was set on fire, killing about 60 people. Following rumours that the fire was carried out by Muslim arsonists, anti-Muslim violence spread throughout Gujarat. An estimated 2000 persons died.
Modi as Chief Minister imposed a curfew in major cities, issued shoot-at-sight orders, and called for the army to prevent the violence from escalating. However, human rights groups, opposition parties, and sections of the media all accused him of being too passive, and even condoning the violence.
Many years later, in 2009 the Supreme Court ordered that an inquiry be held into the Modi's role in the incidents. The inquirers reported that they did not find any substantial incriminating evidence against Modi of wilfully allowing communal violence in the state.
In the aftermath of the violence, there were widespread calls for Modi to resign from his position as Chief Minister. Modi offered to step down but the BJP refused his resignation. In the subsequent elections, the BJP won comfortably and Modi was re-appointed Chief Minister.
Modi served three more terms as Chief Minister until he led the BJP campaign for the recent general elections as its Prime Ministerial candidate. His tenure was marked by significant economic growth in the state, a factor he used effectively to portray himself as an economic Messiah for India.
Modi succeeded in bringing electricity to every village in Gujarat. The electricity supplied was then rationed to fit demand for irrigation, resulting in a cost-reduction, benefiting farmers greatly. It was associated with rising literacy rates and an improvement in health indicators as well.
Modi’s emergence as a key figure in the BJP was also accompanied by controversy. In 2007, Modi was cautioned by the Election Commission of India for a speech in which he justified the extra-judicial killing of a notorious criminal.
In a bid to counter his growing image as a person with an anti-Muslim outlook, in 2011 and 2012 Modi undertook a series of fasts. Modi announced that he believed that his fasts would further strengthen Gujarat’s environment of peace, unity and harmony.
Modi played a significant role for the BJP in the 2009 national general election campaign. In early 2013, Modi was appointed to the BJP Parliamentary Board, the highest decision-making body of the party and he was spoken of as a potential Prime Ministerial candidate.
Modi’s emergence as a key figure in the BJP was also accompanied by controversy. In 2007, Modi was cautioned by the Election Commission of India for a speech in which he justified the extra-judicial killing of a notorious criminal
In June 2013, Modi was appointed Chairman of the BJP's Central Election Campaign Committee for the 2014 general election. The party's senior leader Lal Krishna Advani resigned from all his posts, protesting against Modi’s appointment. Modi was named Prime Ministerial candidate in September.
Modi’s controversial nature has been noticed not only in India but internationally too. In 2005, Modi was denied a visa to the United States based on his perceived involvement in the 2002 incidents. The United Kingdom also refused to deal with Modi for a decade but lifted its diplomatic boycott in 2012.
From a Sri Lankan perspective, Modi, while campaigning in Tamil Nadu said that “small countries like Sri Lanka have to be dealt with strongly”.
However, with the BJP having an absolute majority in the government, it does not need the support of Tamil Nadu parliamentarians for its survival.
As Prime Minister, Narendra Modi is likely to be a tough but pragmatic Premier. India is hoping that he will usher in an economic miracle and root out corruption while Sri Lanka looks forward to improved relations with its giant neighbour’s new leader, as there is little love lost between the two nations now.