Max Fisher writes: Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, looks likely to become India’s next prime minister — and the international community is terrified. Though Modi is running as an economic fixer, or “India’s CEO,” The Economist went so far as to issue an anti-endorsement, urging Indians to vote for anyone but Modi.
So who is Narendra Modi? And why is the world so worried?
Modi is a leader in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s second-largest political party, as well as the party’s candidate to become prime minister should BJP sweep the current elections. The BJP is running against the incumbent party, the Indian National Congress Party (or Congress for short), which has been in power for most of the country’s history. It looks likely that the BJP will come out on top in the election, making Modi prime minister.
Modi is known for his trim beard, stern demeanor, and imposing rhetorical style. He is currently the top political official for Gujarat, a northwestern state with about 60 million people, and has been since 2001. He is also a member of the right-wing Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (or RSS). He has been a member of the RSS for nearly four decades — an important detail for reasons explained below.
Modi is campaigning on two major platforms. The first is economic management: he positions himself as India’s CEO. While India’s economy has slowed over the last four years, Gujarat’s economy has done well enough for many Indians to see Modi as a leader able to cut through India’s notorious bureaucracy and corruption, and return the country to double-digit growth. The second platform, which is less openly stated but just as important, is right-wing Hindu nationalism — a major concern for India’s Muslims, not to mention outside observers who see it as a recipe for disaster.
He has a notorious record for ginning up religious tension in a country where this can be — and often is — deadly. And his ascent coincides with a rising trend of Indian right-wing Hindu nationalism that has stirred up major concern among many foreign observers. That concern is so pronounced, The Economist ran a cover story explicitly urging Indian readers to vote against Modi. “By refusing to put Muslim fears to rest, Mr. Modi feeds them. By clinging to the anti-Muslim vote, he nurtures it,” the article warned. The anti-endorsement was, like just about everything Modi, extremely controversial in India. [Continue reading…]