Wednesday, April 18, 2012

India’s Most Admired and Most Feared Politician: Narendra Modi

India, Politics, Governance, Economic Development
William J. Antholis, Managing Director, The Brookings Institution
The Brookings Institution MARCH 16, 2012

Meet India’s most admired and most feared politician: Narendra Modi. The world’s largest democracy, India, could elect him Prime Minister. And the world’s leading democracy, the United States, currently does not issue him a visa.

I spent ninety minutes with Mr. Modi earlier this month at his Chief Minister’s residence in Gujarat – a state of 60 million people, about the same size as France, Britain, or Italy, and practically twice as big as California.

More than any other state leader in India, Modi is shaking up national politics. In a January survey by India Today, he again ranked as India’s top performing Chief Minister. For the first time, he also was the top pick for national Prime Minister. The percentage who favored him had doubled over last year, vaulting him past Rahul Gandhi.[1]
I had heard about Modi — from all sides—all across India. “India’s most effective public official.” “If given five years, he would transform India’s economy.” “He cannot be forgiven for the riots.” “Gujarat borders on a cult of personality.”
In person, Modi comes across as an effective administrator, a proud Indian nationalist, and a committed if not zealous Hindu. He also is a policy maven—introverted, precise, and even passionate about the most technical of subjects. On almost all of these issues, his Gujarat is pushing, not following, New Delhi and India.
Modi welcomed me, and handed me eight pages of single-spaced answers to questions that I had submitted in advance. “This way we can just have a conversation.”
With no prompting, Modi raised Gujarat’s 2002 riots, which are his “brand” in India— the single event for which he is known by nearly all Indians.
“I had never run anything before, and I had never run for elected office” he said. “And then the Godhra train incident happened.”
On February 27, 2002, fifty-eight Hindus were killed on a train in the Gujarat town of Godhra, returning from a pilgrimage. The next day, Modi called for a day of mourning— which some mourners took as an invitation to riot. Gujarat exploded, with the death-toll reaching a thousand people, mostly Muslims. India has known murderous riots, but had never before seen them live on cable TV in horrific, unspeakable detail.
Many Indians saw Modi either as complicit, or at least indifferent to Muslim suffering. Accusations persist that he directed the police to allow attacks on Muslims; that he sought to cover up the worst of the crimes; or that he failed to prosecute Hindu nationalists.
No formal charges have been made against Modi, though a special investigation has produced a lengthy confidential report. India’s Supreme Court recently turned the whole matter back to local courts of Gujarat. It is for this reason that despite his popularity, many observers doubt that his BJP party will put him forward as their Prime Minister candidate.
The U.S. government has found enough reason for concern that in 2005, the State Department revoked Mr. Modi’s visa. They cited a provision that bars any government official who "directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom."