Who is Narendra Modi?
All around the globe, eyes have turned toward India, as the world’s largest democracy is in the midst of the biggest election the world has ever seen. With 814 million eligible voters (about 1/5 of the entire world’s working-age population), the general elections of India will decide who will lead the emerging power as its prime minister.
The big race between BJP candidate Narendra Modi and INC nominee Rahul Gandhi will be decided in six weeks of elections across the country. The battle for prime minister has shown the world a divided nation at a major crossroads. Pre-election polls show that Congress Party may be defeated, and have Modi winning by 3 to 1.
Narendra Modi is currently the incumbent, 14th Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat. Modi is now in his fourth term of the position, which he took over after Keshubhai Patel resigned in 2001, making him the longest serving Chief Minister in state history.
Modi’s prime ministerial campaign has centered on bringing change to the country, which has struggled with a sluggish economy and may be looking for new leadership to turn things around. Modi, with his pro-business platform, promises jobs for the young unemployed, and focuses on the next generation of India. The BJP success in Modi’s home state of Gujarat has allowed the state to continue to grow while other states struggled, and many are hopeful that these same strategies can be applied to at the country level.
Modeled on Obama’s Campaign
Some of Modi’s campaign strategies seem to be modeled on those of US President Barack Obama. “We have borrowed heavily from Obama’s use of analytics,” explained a member of Modi’s campaign staff, as a method of maximizing outreach. Additionally, Modi’s promises of change and appeal to poor voters are reminiscent of Obama’s own campaign and his focus on young, first-time voters. But this is where comparisons to Obama end.
The Global Perceptions
The United States and other major world powers have previously taken a stance against Narendra Modi, for his association with the 2002 violence in Gujarat. The outbreak of religious riots lasting three months led to the deaths of over 2,000 people, including 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus, and the injury of another 2,500 people. The horrific tragedy sparked worldwide outrage, and many criticized Modi for not stopping the violence, or even inciting it. While Modi was officially cleared by an investigation, one of his ministers was put in jail for life for causing the death of 97 Muslims. But many leaders disagreed with that conclusion.
Modi has faced opposition from many Western countries for these human rights violation, and the boycott of Modi lasted about a decade. Modi had been invited to speak at an event in the United States in 2005, but the public circulated a petition, with the Hindu population at the forefront, to prevent him from entering the country. On March 19, 2005, Modi had his tourist visa to the United States revoked, and he was denied a diplomatic visa on the grounds that he was responsible for “severe violations of religious freedom.”
However, since Modi has been tapped as the probable winner of the election for prime minister of India, the United States has softened its stance, recognizing the need for diplomatic relations between India and the United States. The US Assistant Secretary of State, Nisha Biswal announced in March 2014 that “a democratically elected leader of India will be a welcome partner.” US Ambassador Nancy Powell recently announced that the ban would be lifted if Modi were to become prime minister of India. Earlier this year in February, Powell met with Modi in Gujarat for talks, although Powell has since announced her decision to step down from her position as ambassador, which some speculate was in response to the situation with Modi.
Additionally, money may speak louder than the opposition in regards to Modi. With major US car companies seeking strategic partnerships in Gujarat, the possibilities of economic growth may suggest that the outrage will soon be forgotten. General Motors already has a production plant in the state, while Ford is planning to open one soon.
Australia and European countries have already pursued diplomatic ties with Modi, showing their willingness to work with the leader. The European Union ended its boycott of Modi, including Britain, whose High Commissioner to India James Bevan met with Modi to restore ties. German Ambassador Michael Steiner explained, “The question whether we talk to Mr. Modi or not has nothing to do with our position on human rights or rights of women. We don’t want to continue that debate.”
Modi in Western Media
In the United States, the Indian election has been left widely uncovered, mentioned in passing or even completely ignored. Despite the Indian elections status as the world’s largest, and the importance of the event for international politics, US media outlets are generally uninterested.
British comedian John Oliver, the host of the new HBO show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” covered the Indian elections in a segment on the premiere episode of his satire news show (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZDYsSOngik).
In the segment, Oliver was critical of the lack of interest, and broke down the issues on a comedic level. Oliver pointed to the various reasons why Americans should be interested in the elections, from serious and important issues to comical ones, with references to Modi’s use of campaigning via hologram.