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The poor boy who conquered the Indian kingdom

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Narendra Modi is the poor boy who became India’s very popular Prime Minister. He is now serving his third term. The election in the country starts on 19 April. Photo: AP / NTB

Of NTB | 18.04.2024 06:33:02

Crime and justice: Modi was the third of six siblings. His father worked as a tea seller at a railway station, and as a child Modi had to help sell tea to contribute to the family’s finances.

The seeds of his political career were sown as early as the age of eight, when he joined the extreme nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

As a student he did averagely well, but as a speaker he excelled. He participated with vigor and enthusiasm in school debates as well as in theater performances.

Living with his wife would have hindered his advancement in the RSS, which expects everyone in prominent positions to be celibate.

The RSS knew how to use Modi’s talent and paved the way for a career in the movement’s political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which grew rapidly throughout the 1990s.

At least 1,000 people were killed in the ensuing wave of violence, most of the victims being Muslims. Modi was accused of helping to incite the unrest and of failing to order the police to intervene.

Modi later told a BBC reporter that his biggest weakness in responding to the riots was not knowing “how to handle the media”.

A subsequent investigation ultimately concluded there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Modi, but internationally his reputation plummeted and for years he was banned from entering the US and Britain.

Modi’s political path to the prime ministership was clearly marred by allegations of his complicity in India’s worst religious riots this century. He is later strongly criticized for the fact that hostility towards Muslims and other minorities has increased during his terms as prime minister.

Modi’s supporters hail his role in today’s India. They see him as a strong guardian of the interests of India’s majority religion, which Modi himself claims has been held back by the secular forces that have ruled the country almost continuously since independence from Britain.

They love his tough demeanor and also cultivate the myths spun around his humble upbringing.

Internationally, he has also won an increasingly stronger role, and he is constantly ranked among the world’s most popular leaders.

India’s 210 million Muslims have become more anxious about the future.

In the West, a development in which India’s democracy is weakening is also viewed with concern, but at the same time Western leaders need Modi in a world where China is gaining ever stronger influence.

Modi was last year awarded the rare honor of being able to address the US Congress and be received at the White House by President Joe Biden.

Modi has thus also been given credit for India’s growing diplomatic and economic influence in the world. He himself claims that under his leadership the country has become a “vishwaguru” or teacher for the world.

Everything is therefore likely that Modi will strengthen his grip on power after the election, which starts on 19 April and ends on 1 June. That’s how long an election has to take when the world’s largest democracy with its close to 1 billion voters has to vote.

Modi eventually devoted himself entirely to the cause of promoting Hindu supremacy in India, which is formally a secular state. He even walked out of his arranged marriage soon after getting married at the age of 18.

Modi was appointed chief minister of Gujarat in 2001. The following year, the state was rocked by bloody sectarian riots, sparked by a fire that killed dozens of Hindu pilgrims.

But among the largest population group, the Hindus, Modi’s popularity has largely only increased.

However, the opposition and critics are concerned. They point to authoritarian features and highlight a number of prosecutions against Modi’s political rivals. The country has also gained a less free press – not least because powerful supporters of Modi and the BJP have bought up important media.

(© NTB)

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