Narendra Modi managed to rise above controversy to become India’s 15th prime minister on May 26. This was the first time in three decades that a prime minister had an absolute majority in India’s lowest house of Parliament, and Modi is the first prime minister to have been born after India’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. He is of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also known as the Indian People’s Party, which was founded in 1980. Modi is one of this year’s Time’s 100 most influential people in the world.
In Modi’s first year as Gujarat’s chief minister, riots followed the burning of a train that carried a high number of Hindus. Rumors quickly spread that Muslims were behind the attack that killed 60 people. Modi imposed a curfew and an army presence in many cities around Gujarat as the riots lasted for three days, with roughly 1,200 deaths, mostly Muslim.
Modi’s role in the riots is still debatable, with some critics accusing the state of terrorism and even ethnic cleansing. He has also been called out for his alleged anti-Muslim sentiments. Even though this event had tarnished his image, Narendra Modi still managed to stay in power and rise to become India’s prime minister 12 years later.
Many called for Modi to resign following the riots, and he did submit his resignation papers only to have them rejected by his party, the BJP. Elections in the Gujarat legislative soon took place after the riots’ end, with Modi’s party winning 70 percent of the seats in the state’s assembly and him remaining chief minister.
Gujarat is known locally as the “Jewel of the West” and is located in the northwestern part of India, sharing a border with Pakistan. It is home to 60 million, with over 89 percent practicing Hinduism and just over nine percent practicing Islam, according to 2011 statistics from India’s census.
Following the BJP’s win in 2002, Gujarat’s economy took center stage. Modi had technology and financial parks built, which had a lucrative effect as they attracted investors to the region. Criticisms regarding his ties to Muslims continued, especially from those who called for his resignation, which include then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
After five years in office, Modi’s party faced elections in Gujarat’s legislature again in 2007. The BJP chose to include focus on fighting terrorism in the aftermath of the 2006 Mumbai train bombings that killed 209 people and injured hundreds more. The BJP won 67 percent of assembly seats and secured Modi’s place as the longest-serving chief minister in Gujarat.
Infrastructure across the state was improved, and a cotton boom contributed to Gujarat becoming the state with the highest agricultural growth in the first decade of the new millennium. Modi made attempts to mend ties with Muslims with a three-day fast as his 61st birthday approached in 2011 as a sign of goodwill.
In Gujarat’s 2012 legislature elections, the BJP won majority again by taking 65 percent of seats. The only difference following this win was that Modi was replaced as chief minister in May this year as he became prime minister.
India’s 2014 general elections were amid criticisms of a slowing economy, inflation and corruption. Youth were mobilized to vote through social media, especially on Twitter. Modi’s Twitter account has 4.69 million followers as of June 4.
Just like President Obama in the US 2012 elections, Modi and the BJP benefited greatly from being in contact with India’s netizens. After the BJP won in the parliamentary elections, Modi became the party’s leader in Parliament. These victories caught the eye of India’s President Shri Pranab Mukherjee, who then appointed Modi as India’s new prime minister on May 20.
Modi was officially sworn in on May 26 with leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) present in a bid to improve diplomatic and business ties among member states. Members include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.Earlier this year, U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell began talks with Modi to try to mend relations following the 2002 riots.
Narendra Modi’s rise to become India’s prime minister may have been tainted by Gujarat’s 2002 riots, but he has managed to salvage his image enough to have risen as President Mukherjee’s right-hand man. Some critics call him a man of some of the people, but Modi helped Gujarat rise despite India’s slow economy.
By Sibylla Chipaziwa