Narendra Damodardas Modi (born 17 September 1950) is the 14th and current Chief Minister of Gujarat, a state in western India. Modi was a key strategist for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the successful 1995 and 1998 Gujarat state election campaigns. He first became chief minister of Gujarat in October 2001, being promoted to the office upon the resignation of his predecessor, Keshubhai Patel, following the defeat of BJP in by-elections. In July 2007, he became the longest-serving Chief Minister in Gujarat’s history when he had been in power for 2,063 days continuously. Under his leadership, the Bharatiya Janata Party won the 2012 State Assembly Elections and he was chosen to serve for a fourth term as chief minister.
Modi is a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He holds a master’s degree in political science. Modi is a controversial figure both within India and internationally. His administration has been criticised for the incidents surrounding the 2002 Gujarat violence. His policies are credited with creating the environment for the high economic growth in Gujarat.
Early life and activism
Modi was born on 17 September 1950 to a family of grocers in Vadnagar in Mehsana district of what was then Bombay State (present-day Gujarat), India. He was the third of six children born to Damodardas Mulchand Modi and his wife, Heeraben. While a teenager, Modi ran a tea stall with his brother around a bus terminus. He completed his schooling in Vadnagar, where a teacher describes him as being an average student but a keen debater.
He began work in the staff canteen of Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation, where he stayed till he became a full–time pracharak (propagator) of the RSS. After Modi had received some RSS training in Nagpur, which was a prerequisite for taking up an official position in the Sangh Parivar, he was given charge of Sangh’s student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, in Gujarat. Modi organised agitations and covert distribution of Sangh’s pamphlets during the Emergency. During his years in the RSS, Modi came in touch with Vasant Gajendragadkar and Nathalal Jaghda, leaders of the Jan Sangh, who later founded the BJP’s Gujarat state unit.
Education and political activism:
Modi remained a pracharak in the RSS while he completed his master’s degree in political science from Gujarat University. The RSS seconded Modi to the BJP in 1987. While Shankarsingh Vaghela and Keshubhai Patel were the established names in the BJP, Modi rose to prominence after organising Murli Manohar Joshi’s Ekta yatra (journey for unity). His electoral strategy was central to BJP’s victory in the 1995 state elections.
Modi became the General Secretary of the BJP and was transferred to New Delhi where he was assigned responsibility for the party’s activities in Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Vaghela, who had threatened to break away from BJP in 1995, defected from the BJP after he lost the 1996 Lok Sabha elections. In 1998, Modi was promoted to the post of National Secretary of the BJP. While selecting candidates for the 1998 state elections in Gujarat, Modi sidelined people who were loyal to Vaghela and rewarded those who favoured Patel, thus ending factional divisions within the party. His strategies were key to winning those elections.
Patel’s failing health, along with allegations of abuse of power, corruption and poor administration, as well as a loss of BJP seats in by-elections and the effects of the devastating Bhuj Earthquake of 2001, which his administration struggled to handle, prompted the BJP’s national leadership to seek a new candidate for the office of chief minister. Modi, who had aired his misgivings about Patel’s administration, was chosen as a replacement. L. K. Advani, a senior leader of the BJP, however, did not want to ostracise Patel and was worried about Modi’s lack of experience in governance. It was suggested that Modi should be made the deputy chief minster in a government led by Patel. Modi informed Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee that he was “going to be fully responsible for Gujarat or not at all” and declined the proposal. On 7 October 2001, Modi was appointed the Chief Minister of Gujarat and was assigned responsibility to prepare the BJP for elections in December 2002. As Chief Minister, Modi’s ideas of governance revolved around privatisation and small government, which stood at odds with what Aditi Phadnis has described as the “anti–privatisation, anti–globalisation position” of the RSS.
2002 Gujarat violence:
In 2002, widespread communal violence erupted between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat after the violent incident near the Godhra railway station where some coaches of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was burned by a muslim mob; the Gujarat administration was accused by the opposition and sections of the media of taking insufficient action against the violence, and even condoning it in some cases. The Modi government had imposed curfews, issued shoot-at-sight orders and called for the army to prevent the violence from worsening but the combined strength of the army and state police proved insufficient. In April 2009, the Supreme Court of India appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to inquire into the Gujarat government and Narendra Modi’s role in the incidents of communal violence. The SIT reported to the court in December 2010 submitting that they did not find any incriminating evidence against Modi of willfully allowing communal violence in the state.
Modi’s decision to move the corpses of the kar sevaks who had been burned to death in Godhra to Ahmedabad had been criticised for inflaming the violence. However, SIT found his decision to be justified.
In April 2012, the SIT absolved Modi of any involvement in the Gulbarg Society massacre that occurred in 2002. On 7 May 2012, the Supreme Court-appointed amicus curiae, Raju Ramachandran, observed that Modi could be prosecuted for promoting enmity among different groups during the 2002 Gujarat violence. His main contention was that the evidence should be examined by a court of law because the SIT was required to investigate but not to judge. The amicus report has been criticised by the Special Investigation Team for relying heavily on the testimony of Sanjiv Bhatt.
In the aftermath of the violence, there were calls for Modi to resign from his position as chief minister of Gujarat. The opposition parties stalled the national parliament over the issue. Both the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP), allies of the BJP, also asked for Modi’s resignation, as did Jayalalithaa, the leader of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party. Modi submitted his resignation and the state Assembly was dissolved. In the resultant elections the BJP, led by Modi, won 127 seats in the 182-member assembly.
Second term (2002–2007):
During his second term, Modi’s emphasis shifted from Hindutva to the economic development of Gujarat. Modi’s decisions curtailed the influence of organizations of the Sangh Parivar such as the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), which had become entrenched in Gujarat after the decline of Ahmedabad’s textile industry. Modi dropped Gordhan Zadaphia, ally of Modi’s former Sangh co–worker and VHP state chief Praveen Togadia, from the cabinet ministry. When BKS launched a farmers’ agitation, Modi ordered their eviction from houses provided by the state government. Modi’s decision to demolish 200 illegal temples in Gandhinagar deepened the rift with VHP. Various organizations of the Sangh were no longer consulted or apprised of Modi’s administrative decisions prior to enactment.
Between 2002–2007, Gujarat emerged as an attractive investment destination. Aditi Phadnis, author of Political Profiles Of Cabals & Kings and columnist in the Business Standard, writes that “there was sufficient anecdotal evidence pointing to the fact that corruption had gone down significantly in the state… if there was to be any corruption, Modi had to know about it”. Modi instituted financial and technology parks in the state. During the 2007 Vibrant Gujarat summit, real estate investment deals worth INR6.6 lakh crore (INR6600 billion) were signed in Gujarat. In 2003, when Narendra Modi was asked about the conflict of his dreams for Gujarat’s future with international criticism of his past activities, Modi said,
Yet, no one has asked this question to the USA after 9/11. Delhi is developing fast – no one has asked this question to Delhi after 1984. If it does not matter to Delhi and USA, why should it matter to Gujarat?
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then Prime Minister of India, who had asked Modi not to discriminate between citizens in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat violence and had pushed for his resignation as Chief Minister of Gujarat, distanced himself from Modi and reached out to North Indian Muslims before the 2004 elections to the Lok Sabha. After the elections, Vajpayee held the violence in Gujarat as one of the reasons for BJP’s electoral defeat and acknowledged that not removing Modi immediately after the Gujarat violence was a mistake. Modi had attempted to equate the Gujarat violence with the events of 9/11 in the USA and responded to a newspaper’s criticism that compared him to Hitler, Pol Pot and Slobodan Milosovic by saying that “I have not read and I would not like to read. But thank you people for spending time on me.”
Terrorism and elections in 2007-2008:
In the lead up to assembly and general elections in 2007–2008, the BJP stepped up its rhetoric on terrorism. On 18 July 2006, Modi criticised the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, “… for his reluctance to revive anti-terror legislations” such as the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act. He asked the national government to allow states to invoke tougher laws in the wake of the 7/11 blasts in Mumbai. Modi said that:
Terrorism is worse than a war. A terrorist has no rules. A terrorist decides when, how, where and whom to kill. India has lost more people in terror attacks than in its wars.
Around this time Modi frequently demanded the execution of Afzal Guru, a collaborator of the Pakistani jihadists who had been convicted of terrorism for his involvement in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack.
Modi made a speech at Mangrol in which he justified the extrajudicial killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, during the election campaign in response to Sonia Gandhi’s speech calling him a “merchant of death”, and referred to Sohrabuddin’s killing. For this speech the Election Commission of India, a constitutional body governing election proceedings in India, cautioned Modi as it considered it as indulging in an activity which may aggravate existing differences between different communities.
Modi had completed 2,063 consecutive days as chief minister of Gujarat in July 2007, making him the longest-serving holder of that post. The BJP won the 2007 election, gaining 122 of the 182 seats in the state assembly, and Modi continued in office as chief minister.
As a consequence of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, Modi held a meeting to discuss security of Gujarat’s 1,600 km (990 mi) coastline. The outcome was that the central government authorised construction of 30 high–speed surveillance boats.
Third term (2007–2012):
Gujarat is a semi-arid state and, according to Tushaar Shah, was “… never known for agrarian dynamism” but in recent years has improved its agricultural output substantially, in large part due to projects relating to improvement of groundwater supplies in Saurashtra, Kachchh and the north, as well as efforts to increase the use of micro-irrigation and to provide more efficient power supply to farms. Public irrigation measures in the central and southern areas, such as the Sardar Sarovar Project, have not been so successful in achieving their aims.
Successive BJP governments under Patel and Modi supported NGOs and communities in the creation of infrastructure projects for conservation of groundwater. By December 2008, 500,000 structures had been constructed, of which 113,738 were check dams. While most check dams remained empty during the pre-monsoon season, they helped recharge the aquifers that lie beneath them. 60 of the 112 Tehsils which were found to have over–exploited the groundwater table in 2004 had regained their normal groundwater level by 2010 and Gujarat had managed to increase its groundwater levels at a time when they were falling in all other Indian states. As a result, production of genetically-modified Bt cotton, which could now be irrigated using tube wells, increased to become the largest in India. The boom in cotton production and utilization of semi–arid land saw the agriculture growth rate of Gujarat increase to 9.6% in the period 2001–2007. For the decade 2001–2010, Gujarat recorded a Compound annual growth rate of 10.97%, the highest among all Indian states.
The system of supplying power to rural areas has been changed radically and has had a greater impact on agriculture than the irrigation works. While states such as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu provided free electricity to farms, and most other states provided subsidised power, the Gujarat government between 2003-2006 reacted to concerns that such measures result in waste of the power supplied and of groundwater itself with the Jyotigram Yojana scheme, based on ideas developed by the International Water Management Institute. Agricultural supplies were rewired to separate then from other rural supplies and then the electricity used by farms was rationed to fit with scheduled demand for irrigation and consequently to reduce the amount of subsidy being paid. The farmers objected to this at first but came to realise that the outcome was that they were receiving a supply that suffered less from interruption, was of a more consistent voltage and was available when they most needed it for irrigation purposes. Other states have since begun to adopt similar, although not identical, strategies.
During late 2011 and early 2012, Narandra Modi undertook a series of fasts as part of the Sadbhavna Mission, to reach out to the Muslim community in Gujarat. The mission started on 17 September 2011 in Ahmedabad with a three-day fast aimed at strengthening the atmosphere of peace, unity, and harmony in the state. He observed 36 fasts in 26 districts and 8 cities.
In 2011, the Gujarat state organisation of Congress banned the Gujarati-language TV 9 television channel from covering its events and prohibited access to its press conferences. Modi criticised this decision, saying that
Journalists on Twitter who spoke against Congress, were blocked. Here they banned a TV channel. Their crime is that they exposed cracks in the ghar nu ghar (own your home) scheme of the Congress. Yet this party talks about democracy.
On 25 August 2011, the Governor of Gujarat, Kamla Beniwal, appointed Justice R. A. Mehta to the post of Lokayukta of Gujarat, a critical anti–corruption post that had been lying vacant since 2003. Mehta was recommended for the post by the Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court in June 2011. Beniwal made this decision without consultation with and approval from Modi and his council of ministers. This marked the beginning of a strained relationship between Modi and Beniwal. On 25 September 2011, Modi accused the Governor of running a parallel government in the state supported by the Indian National Congress party. He demanded that she be recalled.
The appointment of Mehta was challenged in the High Court by the Gujarat government. The two-member high court bench gave a split verdict on 10 October 2011. In January 2012, a third member upheld Beniwal’s decision.
Modi has also accused Beniwal of delaying a bill for reservation of 50% of seats in local government for women.
Modi interacted with netizens on Google+ on 31 August 2012. The chat session was also broadcast live on YouTube. The questions were submitted before the chat, and those broadcast were mostly based on issues about education, youth empowerment, rural development and causes of urbanisation. The hashtag #ModiHangout became the most trending term in India at Twitter on the day of the session, whereas #VoteOutModi, used by Modi’s opponents, became the third most trending term in the country. The event made Modi the first Indian politician to interact with netizens through live chat on the internet.
Fourth term (2012–present):
In the 2012 Gujarat legislative assembly elections, Narendra Modi won the constituency of Maninagar with a majority of 86,373 votes over Sanjiv Bhatt’s wife, Shweta, who was contesting for the Indian National Congress. The BJP as a whole won 115 of the 182 seats; it has formed the government in Gujarat since 1995 and has had an absolute majority throughout Modi’s time in office.
Role in central politics:
In March 2013, Modi was appointed as member of the BJP Parliamentary Board, its highest decision-making body, and also as a member of the party’s Central Election Committee.
To attract foreign investment in Gujarat during his time as chief minister, Modi has made visits to countries such as China, Singapore and Japan.
Modi visited China in November 2006 in order to study the Special Economic Zones that were planned to start in Gujarat. He also visited in September 2007 and later in November 2011. A month after his visit of 2011, the Chinese Government released 13 diamond traders from India who had been jailed by the Shenzhen Customs, which Modi described as being the consequence of his diplomatic efforts and statesmanship.
In 2005 Modi was denied a diplomatic visa to the United States. In addition, the B-1/B-2 visa that had previously been granted to him was also revoked, under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act which makes any foreign government official who was responsible or “directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom” ineligible for the visa.
The United Kingdom refused to deal with Modi for a decade following the 2002 violence, changing its policy of diplomatic boycott by all but low-ranking officials in October 2012. Later, in March 2013, the European Union, of which the UK is a member, also ended its boycott, saying that talking with Modi was a separate issue from that of protecting human rights and those of women.
Personality and image:
Modi is a vegetarian. He is known for leading a frugal lifestyle and has a personal staff of three. He is known to be a workaholic and an introvert. He also writes poems in Gujarati. He is a crowd-puller as a speaker. He wears “business suits to business meetings, instead of homespun tunics. He still lampoons the urban, English-speaking elite, but he is also honing his English skills.” Modi is seen as a “protector” by his supporters. Indian National Congress party likened Modi with “Yamraj”, the god of death in Hindu mythology.