Book: Narendra Modi: A Political Biography | Author: Andy Marino
Sponsors: Arjun Divecha, Bill Macaulay, Lanny Martindale, Scott Nuttall
Brief Author: Tom Waldo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Andy Marino’s Narendra Modi captures the rise of India’s prime minister through some of the most turbulent periods of India’s history to the forefront of government in the world’s largest democracy. From his early involvement in the right-wing nationalistic RSS, Modi always exhibited an interest in the machinations behind the political curtain. He frequented ideological discussions at local RSS chapter meetings in his home town of Vadnagar in Gujarat, and at the age of 17, Modi embarked on a transformative two-year journey through the northern states of India that can only be described as a spiritual pilgrimage. Modi returned to Gujarat at the age of 19, and his relentless activity in India’s most industrialized western state has resulted in one of the most remarkable ascendancies to political prominence India has ever seen.
Modi worked as a grunt in the RSS throughout the 1970’s, a period which saw the Pakistani aggression of 1971 and Indira Gandhi’s internal Emergency in 1975. In the midst of the Emergency, Modi established himself as one of Gujarat’s most driven and innovative political leaders. As part of his tireless efforts in combatting Gandhi’s efforts to transform India into a quasi-police state, Modi organized resistance forces to raise and disperse money among opposition groups, smuggle vital supporters and documents to safety, and alert the outside world of the attack on constitutional democracy. The young RSS officer emerged from the Emergency with a well-earned reputation as a staunch supporter of Indian democratic ideals, and Modi continued to push himself deeper into the fabric of Indian politics as the rest of the decade unfolded.
The political landscape in Gujarat and India transformed through the 1980’s and Modi found himself appointed as a junior leader of the newly formed Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. Since its inception, the BJP has generally stood as the largest political counterweight to the overwhelming hegemony of the historically entrenched Congress party. Modi organized political rallies for the BJP and continued to notch impressive wins for the party at polls across the country. His successful efforts as a back room dealer led to a number of promotions in rapid succession, from regional organizer to general secretary of Gujarat’s BJP. Modi finally ascended to the position of chief minister of Gujarat on October 7, 2001 at the age of 51.
Within months of his appointment as chief minister, Modi found himself struggling to diffuse an eruption of violence between religious and ethnic castes that left over 1000 Gujaratis dead. The Godhra riots have followed Modi as a black mark on his record since 2002, but a careful examination of Modi’s conduct during and after the bedlam leaves little doubt that the chief minister acted ethically and within the law, doing everything within his power to quickly bring the violence to a halt. Though detractors still critique Modi’s management of the crisis to this day, the facts serve only to exonerate Modi.
Finally, Modi’s record of governance provides a metric by which his prime ministerial platform may be evaluated. As chief minister of Gujarat, Modi oversaw a drastic slashing of the jungle of bureaucratic red tape. He led efforts to overhaul the state’s power generation and transmission systems, eventually pushing reliable energy to all 18,000 of the state’s villages. Modi’s government delivered massive water distribution, purification, and irrigation programs that have actually raised the water table in a state that is classified as arid. During Modi’s tenure, Gujarat’s literacy rate rose 30%, child malnutrition decreased 59%, the number of citizens below the poverty line decreased 47%, and per capita income tripled. Critics say Modi is simply an unsympathetic industrialist, but Modi’s centric theme is development. A rising tide lifts all boats, even the leaky ones, and it is difficult to understate the dramatic rise in Gujarati prosperity under Modi’s leadership. For a man who has risen from a tea stall in Vadnagar to the office of prime minister of India, implementing development on a national scale is simply the next challenge.
CLASSIC BRIEF BY: Tom Waldo
Scott Nuttall, KKR | Arjun Divecha, GMO | Bill Macaulay, First Reserve | Lanny Martindale, Texas A&M
Who is Narendra Modi?
A onetime spiritual wanderer, Narendra Modi has evolved over several decades of increasing legislative involvement into the most powerful political figure in India. His growth stems from an unquenchable ambition, seemingly not for himself but for his country. Understanding Modi’s background is key to deciphering his strengths and style of governing in the world’s largest democracy, and Andy Marino’s biography attempts to paint a portrait of the many stages of Modi’s life. Factors that drove Modi from an early age to seek involvement in local public service and policy-making continue to shape his ideology to this day, and demons from Modi’s days as governor of the western state of Gujarat still fuel his most vocal opponents. Narendra Modi has an opportunity to usher in a new age of Indian prosperity onto the world stage, and the eyes of over a billion countrymen are upon him.
Narendra Modi: The Early Years
Narendra Modi was born in 1950 in the semi-rural town of Vadnagar, a sleepy municipality in modern-day Gujarat. The Modi family relied on the business of Narendra’s father, who operated a tea stall at the local train station. In a country with a long history of divisive castes drawn along ethnic and religious lines, this small business lifted the Modi's out of the poverty experienced by lesser castes and enabled them to identify as a working class family. In fact, it was in his father’s tea stall that Narendra Modi first exhibited his appetite for responsibility, racing to his duties after school each day with unfeigned enthusiasm.
The prevalence of religion is a dominant and recurring theme throughout the story of Narendra Modi’s development. Religion has been ingrained in the fabric of India for millennia and is ever present as the stories of Modi’s youth, young adulthood, and ascendance into the fray of professional Indian politics unfold. Several important notes can be made regarding the influence of religion in Modi’s early life. First, although the Modi family was Hindu, the majority of Narendra Modi’s childhood friends were Muslim, and Modi himself regularly attended religious festivals of both of the dominant religions of India. This seemingly minor point has important ramifications for a thorough inspection of Modi’s tenure as governor of Gujarat later in his life. Second, Modi’s fervent devotion to the public good may be traceable to an early display of asceticism. The theme of denying one’s self for the common good is visible in several character- defining instances throughout Modi’s development, and has sometimes been perceived by others as a measure of personal detachment on Modi’s part. In fact, this strain of spiritual self-denial in Modi has always coincided with a striking intellectual hunger which Modi’s own mother foresaw as a driving force behind her son’s eventual pilgrimage away from his home and his family in Vadnagar.
As a child, Modi attended local youth meetings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS. The name translates to “National Volunteer Organization”. The RSS at the time was a right-wing nationalistic political organization, and for a young Narendra Modi it provided an avenue to listen to ideological debates and meet his future mentor, Vakil Saheb. Here the seed for political involvement was planted in the prime- minister-to-be, and Modi’s appetite for volunteerism found fertile soil in which to grow. Shortly before the
1965 invasion by Pakistan into the region of Kashmir, Narendra’s father outright rejected the expressed desire of his son to transfer to military school. Modi remained active in the local RSS chapter until, at the age of 17, he left his home in Vadnagar with his parents’ blessing and began a journey of self-discovery across the country of India.
Spiritual Wanderings of a Young Modi
Modi traveled east out of Gujarat in a spiritual pilgrimage that would eventually last two years, taking him from house to house in lands as distant as West Bengal in the Himalayan foothills. His goal: to follow in the footsteps of his another of his mentors, Swami Vivekananda, and discover his own personhood. The word “swami” translates to “Hindu religious teacher or leader”, and Swami Vivekananda was one of the most prominent forces behind the rise of the Hindu tide in India in the second half of the 19th century. Swami Vivekananda is regarded as a patriotic saint in Hinduism, and his focus on the importance of human development was likely a resonating force for the influential Modi. During his wandering years, Modi was turned away from several Hindu missions across the country in his attempt to become a monk. Eventually, Modi’s path brought him back to Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, and it was there in 1970 as a penniless 19-year old that Narendra embarked on his political career with the RSS.
Modi’s Entry into Politics and the RSS
Modi maintained his activist involvement in the RSS upon returning to Gujarat and throughout the Pakistani aggression in 1971. In 1972, his involvement was rewarded with an official position within the RSS under his professional mentor, Vakil Saheb. As the most junior member of the organization, Modi used even the most menial assignments to cement his place as an invaluable contributor to daily operations. Modi himself said, “If I was the person that cleans the car, I made sure to clean the car very nicely, so that even my boss thought: ‘That is a good boy, teach him to drive, he will be useful for our driving.’ Then I became a driver. So basically, whatever assignment is given to me, at that point of time, I am totally involved in it.” Fully engaged. All in. This was Modi’s mindset as an entry-level ‘pracharak’ in the RSS, and he was soon able to leverage his minutely detailed understanding of the inner workings of the RSS as India approached democratic disaster in 1975.
As Modi learned how to push every button in the RSS machine, Indira Gandhi led the Congress party to an overwhelming victory in the 1971 Lok Sabha elections. Gandhi’s party in the 1970’s, the Congress party, is one of the oldest democratically formed political parties in the world. When one thinks of India’s Congress party, one thinks “political establishment”. The Indian parliament is India’s supreme legislative body and is set up as a bicameral system headed by the Indian president. The prime minister is appointed by the ruling party, which is elected into the upper and lower houses of parliament by the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha respectively. Allegations of rampant corruption and nepotism have been levelled against entrenched Indian (read Congress) politicians for decades.
Gandhi’s Congress victory in the 1971 parliamentary snap elections was built on a platform of poverty eradication, but the prime minister soon faced a three-pronged challenge to her administration. First, a failed monsoon in 1972 coupled with a poorly executed Soviet-style central planning model prompted widespread food scarcity and price spikes; rioting in several states including Gujarat occurred as a result. Second, a leader in the eastern state of Bihar named Jayaprakash Narayan began stirring up support for a “Sampoorna Kraanti”, or “Total Revolution”. Peaceful protests against corrupt political interests were met with a violent government reaction. Finally, due to allegations of electoral irregularities in Congress’ sweeping 1971 Lok Sabha campaign, the Allahabad High Court of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh ruled in June of 1975 that Indira Gandhi’s parliamentary victory four years prior was null and void and that she was ineligible from holding public office for six years. The gravity of this ruling can hardly be overstated, as it flew directly in the face of an already embattled Indira Gandhi and essentially lit the fuse to a political powder keg that had been years in the making. Thus, as a young grunt in the RSS fold, Modi witnessed as the stage was set for the greatest democratic crisis India has ever seen: the Emergency of 1975.
Indira Gandhi’s Emergency of 1975
On June 25, 1975, Indira Gandhi unilaterally declared an internal Emergency, granting herself the power to amend and override the constitution of India and initiating the detention of thousands of political opponents and so-called “hostile elements”. In a 24-hour span, India transitioned from a constitutional democracy into a quasi-police state as foreign journalists were expelled from the country, control of the press came under government censorship, and leaders of opposition groups were arrested on sight. Gujarat, historically a fertile recruiting ground for the RSS, quickly became a haven for democrats seeking asylum, and a formal resistance to the Emergency was forged by the RSS with desperate haste.
The political arm of the RSS at the time was known as the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, or the BJS. As much of the senior political leadership of the BJS was detained or went into hiding, the RSS was pressed by necessity into forming an internal committee to spearhead the resistance movement: the Gujarat Lok Sangharsh Samiti (GLSS). Modi, who had incrementally turned himself into an indispensable cog in the RSS machine through his years as a pracharak, found himself appointed general secretary of the GLSS by none other than his old teacher, Vakil Saheb. This position proved instrumental to Modi’s growing political influence as he worked behind the scenes to get the message out of India that democracy was under attack. The RSS was formally banned in 1975, but Modi was able to escape the persecution aimed at higher-level political opponents given his relative youth and recently junior status. Because of the comparative freedom with which he could operate, Modi became a key operator in ferrying political refugees to safe houses and discretely raising and dispersing funds for activists. Stories even exist of Modi’s adoption of disguises to covertly smuggle strategic documents from within police stations themselves. Two important outcomes arose from Modi’s inventive and tireless efforts during the Emergency. He was able to expand his network ten-fold, working side-by-side in perilous conditions with Gandhians, socialist leaders, Islamic organizations, Communist Party heads, and other people from all walks of political involvement in India. This has always been a strength of Modi’s; he can work effectively with diverse groups of people, separating himself from emotional and ideological tangles and driving for results. Additionally, Modi adopted the Emergency as a “university” of sorts, using the experience to build his own understanding of the principles of democracy and constitutional government firsthand.
Due partially to international pressure based on RSS efforts and other reports coming out of India, Gandhi held another round of elections in 1977. For the first time in India’s history, the Congress party was defeated in the Lok Sabha. An alliance cobbled together from disparate ideological camps rallied under the flag of the Janata Party for three years, although Congress quickly resumed control as Indira Gandhi was re-elected with a majority in 1980. The RSS emerged from the Emergency with a reputation as a preserver of democracy, and Modi, now nationally connected, resumed his steady rise into the stratosphere of Indian politics.
Modi’s Rise to Political Prominence
Modi had exhibited courage and a keen sense of leadership throughout the Emergency, and in 1978 he was promoted to the position of “sambhaag pracharak”, or regional organizer, for the RSS. He was only 28, but senior RSS leadership had begun to recognize his extraordinary administrative capabilities. Following the reelection of Congress in 1980, the Janata Party crumbled and gave way to the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. The BJP supplanted the BJS as the political arm of the RSS, and the new party was soon confronted with one of India’s defining cultural problems that would continue to play out decades later under Modi’s governance: class warfare.
The Congress party in 1980 developed a model of vote garnering called KHAM, named after the initials of four target castes within Gujarat. Poverty was rampant in Gujarat in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, and the goal of KHAM was to extract votes from the poorest and most marginalized voters (which actually constituted a majority of the population, speaking volumes on the epidemic of poverty at the time) by promising incentives like special reservations for employment in the public sector. The cronyism was extreme even by the most socialist standards of the time, and Indira Gandhi herself decided to shelf similar legislation on the national level for fear of the riot-provoking implications of such radical class-oriented redistribution efforts. Congress’ new KHAM policies proceeded in Gujarat, however, and by 1985 the employment quota for a preselected 63 minorities, tribes, and castes reached an astonishing 49 percent of all public sector jobs with a rollover clause that technically set a quota ceiling of 100 percent. The outrage was palpable among middle and upper classes, which were above the income threshold set by Congress and therefore effectively barred from public employment seats reserved for newly favored KHAM castes. Modi witnessed firsthand the riots and damage caused by this political extremism and exploitation of communal disharmony. While Congress collected the votes of the so-called Other Backward Classes, or OBCs, Modi’s BJP found itself drawing support from a diverse range of middle-class castes discontent with the new wealth-distribution policies of Congress. This era of widespread class-based disharmony in Gujarat was specifically designed by Congress to exacerbate existing communal tensions in the state simply for political gains. It was from these divisive Congress policies that Modi began shaping one of the core pillars of his political platform, a policy that strives to bake a bigger pie rather than simply redistribute the pieces: development.
The 1980’s marked an intensely turbulent decade for India. The 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi at the hands of her own Sikh bodyguards sparked a wave of violent pogroms and a revival of sentimental support for Gandhi’s Congress party. The decade was a formative one for Modi as he strove to keep some distance from the riotous battlegrounds of his own state of Gujarat while simultaneously guiding the political strategy of the BJP. Modi had become a popular figure due to his widely acknowledged activism in the Emergency, and he was able to once again exhibit a keen eye for new ideas by organizing yatras for the BJP throughout Gujarat. Modi’s yatras, which were effectively mobile political festivals moving from town to town, proved to be a powerful stumping tool for the ambitious young politician. Over the course of the decade, Modi organized yatras spanning hundreds of miles to champion his ideas of development in the Indian sense: “modernization, not westernization”.
The meteoric rise of Modi in the BJP party ranks drew the ire of some of his peers, as Modi was again promoted in 1990 to be one of seventeen members of the BJP’s National Election Committee. In fact, it was after his most successful yatra in 1991 that the Shankersinh Vaghela, the president of the BJP, bypassed Modi for inclusion on his inner team. Modi recognized the snub as an opportunity to distance himself temporarily from the party leadership, and his timing could not have been more fortuitous. While Modi continued his backroom work for the BJP in the early 1990’s, hardline Hindutva rioting incited by BJP leadership led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid mosque in Uttar Pradesh and the loss of over 2000 lives from Delhi to Mumbai. Modi, to his credit, has been able to fully escape blame for the crisis due to his forced absence from the BJP leadership. From the sidelines, however, the Gujarat governor-to-be witnessed the alarming potential for explosive caste-on-caste violence that that had been instilled in communities across India by religious hardlining and divisive policies like Congress’ KHAM.
Predictably, the impact of the 1992 destruction of the Babri Masjid mosque reverberated across Gujarat in the form of communal tension and riots. Leadership changed as a result of pressure on the party, and Modi was appointed general secretary of the Gujarat BJP in 1994 with responsibility over 150,000 party workers. Once again, however, rivalries within the party forced Modi’s ouster from Gujarat in 1995. Rebounding once more as he had always done, Modi took the opportunity to lay down roots in Delhi and tally more successes at voting booths in states from Haryana and Himachal Pradesh to Punjab and Kashmir. Despite the grumblings of inter-party rivals, Modi continued to impress senior BJP leadership in Delhi and accepted the position of BJP national general secretary in 1998. This promotion was quickly followed up in 1999 by his appointment as party spokesman, a status that Modi was able to leverage into international diplomatic exposure as a BJP representative. As Modi excelled in his role as backroom dealer for the party, Keshudhai Patel, the current BJP chief minister of Gujarat and political rival to Modi, was mismanaging his way through disastrous droughts and earthquakes across the state between 2000 and 2001. After a disgraced Patel left the seat of chief minister in 2001, BJP leadership quickly decided on the man to take over Gujarati leadership. It was Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee himself who tapped Modi for the position, and on October 7, 2001 Narendra Modi was sworn into office as the chief minister of Gujarat.
Trial by Fire: Modi’s Tenure over the Godhra Riots
Narendra Modi had risen from an 18 year-old spiritual nomad in the Himalayas to chief minister of Gujarat at the age of 51: a meteoric rise to prominence by any standard. He had seen three decades of growth unfold in his home state of Gujarat, often accompanied by seeds of social disharmony sown for Congress’ political gains. At this stage in his life, Modi was no stranger to the religious and caste lines that had been drawn throughout the state that he now governed. On February 27, 2002, a mere four months after Modi’s appointment and only a few days after his official election, the melting pot of religious anger that had been decades in the making finally reached its boiling point and set off a sequence of events that continues to shape political dialogue in India today.
The following is a detailed description of the sequence of events widely known as the Godhra riots of 2002 as relayed by Andy Marino. This calamity has been extremely controversial since the first day when events began to unfold, and there are many accounts of the crimes that occurred on the days in question. Modi, as the presiding chief minister at the time, has been accused of misconduct ranging from negligence to officially sanctioning targeted hits against Muslims. Marino cites sixty-five sources as he attempts to clearly step through the most controversial event of Modi’s political career. It is critical to understand the truth and the timing of the atrocities at Godhra and the resulting riots, as Modi’s career and life since 2002 have depended on his subsequent exoneration of any crimes or complacency.
On the morning of Wednesday, February 27, 2002, a train carrying 2,300 passengers pulled away from the station in the Gujarati town of Godhra. The local time was 8:00 am. Passengers were mostly Hindu pilgrims returning to their homes from Uttar Pradesh. Before the train cleared the station, a crowd of almost 2,000 local Muslims surrounded the train, activated the emergency brakes, and began pelting the carriages with stones, burning rags, and light bulbs filled with acid. The mob was apparently goaded on with loudspeakers chanting slogans that translate to, “Burn them all. Beat the Hindus. Islam is in danger.”
There is evidence that the local fire brigade was sabotaged in a premeditated effort to slow any response to the massacre. Several trucks had been found that morning with missing parts or dysfunctional hoses. Additionally, when the fire crews finally managed to launch a response team, their movements were impeded by hostile mobs that were actually headed by elected members of Congress. Forcing their way through the crowds, the firemen eventually arrived at the station to find that there were hardly any victims left alive to be saved. Police at the scene were apparently vastly outnumbered and completely pacified by the mobs. The official death toll reached fifty-nine people including twenty-six women and twelve children. The carnage at Godhra station proved to be merely the spark for an onslaught of caste warfare over the next 48 hours.
Narendra Modi was informed of the burning at the station between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., but details regarding the perpetrators and the number of deaths were not clear. Having witnessed decades of communal riots across Gujarat incited by various causes, Modi recognized a catalyst when he saw it, and he promptly issued a statewide alert to law enforcement agencies. Modi was at the scene in Godhra by 4 p.m. that day, issuing his first official statement and promising that “No efforts will be spared in ensuring law and order.” By February 28, curfews had been imposed in Godhra and in twenty-eight other cities; this curfew was expanded to cover almost the entire state of Gujarat by March 1. Additionally, Modi oversaw preventative arrests on February 27, the same day of the initial attack at Godhra, of 217 individuals deemed likely to excite already high communal tensions.
Meanwhile, in defiance of official efforts to diffuse rising tensions, the Vishna Hindu Parishad (VHP), a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization, had organized a state bandh, or protest, for February 28. Modi immediately activated the entire police force of the city of Ahmedabad, located just 50 miles west of Godhra and the largest and potentially most volatile city in Gujarat. Additionally, he called in sixty-two police reserve and paramilitary companies from throughout the state, and sent an official request to Delhi for army support. All of this was done by 2:30 p.m. on February 28.
Modi’s response, which may sound drastic, was by no means an overreaction. By 10 a.m. on February 28, reports began coming in from Ahmedabad that a mob of 20,000 VHP thugs had started attacking Muslim migrants in the northeast corner of the city. Years of bigoted class warfare and divisive politics cultivated by KHAM had resulted in a state thoroughly marinated in bitter communalist resentment, and Modi quickly realized local police forces could not be completely trusted. In fact, in the first days of the rioting in Ahmedabad, local police forces were often so polarized that they became completely negligent in their duties to combat the rioters. While there are certainly recorded instances of heroic local police interventions, it took the deployment of regular troops from March 1 onward to quell the worst of the riots.
Much of the criticism of Modi during this trying ordeal stems from insistence that he did not act quickly enough or with enough force to stop the madness that ensued after the burning at Godhra station. Widely proliferated by a politically charged media, disinformation like this is rampant. The timeline of Modi’s actions shows that he acted decisively to curtail riots before they began, and nearly every move of his was actively combatted by Congress. In fact, many Congress officials have been identified and prosecuted for their involvement in the post-Godhra murders. Among those directly implicated are the president of the Panchmahal Youth Congress, the secretary of Congress’s Panchmahal district committee, the Congress chairman of the Vehicle Committee, and the Congress mayor of Ahmedabad himself. Additionally, Modi’s initiative to curtail police complacency by injecting national troops was deliberately impeded by Congress officials in neighboring states. Modi’s official requests on February 28 to the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra for troops were either immediately rejected or curtly denied two weeks after the fact. The argument could therefore be made that many of the deaths that occurred in the first week of rioting (741 out of 1,044 total over the span of several months) were not due to Modi’s complacency, but rather an abhorrent result of the calculated efforts of Congress officials to hamper Modi’s response to the crisis.
Order was steadily restored in the weeks following the initial chaos of the first 48 hours. In the aftermath of the Godhra riots, three key takeaways arose that have most drastically affected Modi’s political viability. First, Modi emerged from the wreckage with his character intact as a law-abiding chief minister. He broke no laws and incited no crimes. In his own words: “I feel sad about what happened but no guilt. And no court has ever come close to establishing it.” Second, though he tendered his resignation to the state assembly in April 2002, his offer was rejected and his governmental mandate was redefined and strengthened. Third, the state of Gujarat itself experienced a fundamental shift in perspective following the riots. Gujarati citizens began to unite against the widespread media portrayal of their state as a lawless pit of rioters led by a genocidal chief minister. In the face of widespread media disinformation regarding the toll of the riots and the parties responsible, the electorate rallied behind Modi and rewarded his BJP party with a whopping 127 seats to Congress’ 51 in the special elections of December 2002. This resounding electoral victory marked a turning of the page for Gujarat: a rejection of Congress’ poisonous KHAM politics and an endorsement for chief minister Modi to usher in his Gujarati vision.
Ideology of Chief Minister Modi
Narendra Modi’s resounding victory for the BJP in the 2002 Gujarat elections shepherded in a new era for the state under the chief minister’s guidance. One of Modi’s first initiatives as the newly elected head of Gujarat was to enforce a strict policy of adherence to the law, regardless of status or political affiliation. Over the past several decades, Modi had climbed to the pinnacle of Gujarati political office largely through his influence within the ranks of the RSS. In Modi’s mind, it had to be perfectly clear that he didn’t owe any favors. His seemingly detached methods in dealing with his historical allies caused rancor among senior leadership within the RSS as well as the BJP, but Modi’s ideas for the state were bigger than any ties to a particular political party. Modi himself said, “In a way I am an apolitical person. I am in the political system and that is why people know me as a politician.” His political problems, according the Indian magazine Manushi, have stemmed from his refusal to shield any wrongdoer; this has proven to be one of his greatest strengths among the voting populace as well. His extreme aversion to traditional political patronage differentiated Modi from the typical Indian bureaucrat. This abhorrence of political favoritism apparently applied to Modi throughout his entire time in office as chief minister. According to The Times of India, even the Modi of 2012 was referred to as “a lone wolf” who “reports to no one, is accountable to none. That’s why he takes the kind of decisions a party man may not, being forced to balance countervailing forces.”
With his own standards for personal integrity clearly defined, Modi set about applying a set of driving principles to his Gujarati government. Creativity. Risk-taking. Mobility. Empowerment. Self-discipline. From the first months of Modi’s reelection, it became clear that these traits were the central pillars of his style of governance. Rather than slash employment in the bloated government sector, a highly controversial tactic in semi-socialist India, Modi sought to challenge his people to become innovators. A fear of failure by government employees had led to a state of creativity paralysis; Modi wanted to eliminate the regime of punishing failure and instead start rewarding healthy risk-taking behavior. In Modi’s mind, failure was evidence of an employee’s desire to improve and explore alternatives. This was a fairly radical idea in the arena of Indian civil service, and it quickly led to higher allocative efficiencies within government as people actually began gravitating through trial-and-error toward positions and responsibilities for which they were better suited.
Additionally, Modi made his stance on bribes unquestionably clear. He has said, “I don’t take bribes and don’t allow anyone else to take bribes either”. This strong conviction from the head of the Gujarati state had an immediate trickle-down impact. His reputation apparently preceded him, and Modi was quick to enforce a strict zero-tolerance policy on bribery: any official accepting bribes was to be fired immediately with no exceptions.
Finally, in line with the concept of intellectual creativity and curiosity, Modi strove to promote a culture of personal ownership for one’s work. He has relayed this philosophy as such: “Think that you are the chief minister of this department – what are you going to do in five years? …You are chief minister. Think about it. What resources do you have? What is your aim, what is your goal? What is your roadmap, and how are you going to implement it and how are you going to achieve it?” This concept of personal empowerment is closely linked to the idea of transparency. A government worker in control of his own projects must be an effective communicator in an environment where resources are shared between other project leaders. Modi sought to remove the veils of secrecy within his government and promote open dialogue. The main idea was that empowered workers who can effectively communicate amongst themselves will collectively and individually develop the necessary self-discipline to manage their tasks. Conceptually, this represented a huge shift from extreme risk aversion and passiveness to higher levels of personal responsibility and an unprecedented amount of accountability. The result for Gujarat was a drastic slashing of government red tape. Modi wanted to lead with “less government, more governance”, and the state was ready to open its doors for business.
Governance and Business in Modi’s Gujarat
One of the most immediate impacts of the Godhra riots on business in Gujarat was a significant decline in foreign investment in the state. Modi understood the critical nature of continuous investment to sustained growth, and he oversaw increases in committed capital from 12,360 crore (one crore is equivalent to 10 million rupees) in 2001 to 66,000 crore in 2003. This increased to over 461,000 crore in 2007. The growth in invested capital within Gujarat was unprecedented, and it served as a litmus test of Modi’s first full term as chief minister as he prepared for the 2007 election campaign. BJP’s resounding victory in Gujarat’s 2007 state elections served as vindication for Modi’s economic policies; capital commitments continued to rise to 1.2 million crore and 2.08 million crore in 2009 and 2011 respectively.
Modi’s vision of development for Gujarat was founded on five key pillars: energy, water, people, education, and state security. These pillars he called “shaktis”, which is Sanskrit for a feminine “sacred force” in the universe responsible for change and liberation. Modi sought to literally empower each of the roughly 18,000 rural villages spread throughout Gujarat. In typical fashion, the chief minister’s ideas were revolutionary for an Indian political system that had historically dished out subsidized, albeit inconsistent, electricity to farmers across the state in exchange for votes. Modi’s idea: electricity is valuable and users should have to pay for it. Thus, in 2003, Modi launched his “lighted village” Jyotigram Scheme (JGS) to install a more powerful network of transmission lines along the existing infrastructure, charge farmers for their electricity, and mandate a set 8-hour period for use to ensure a stable grid. The immediate reaction teetered on a farmer’s revolt, but coupled with a 149% increase in power generation capacity from 2001 to 2013, Modi’s power plan ushered in a dramatic shift in the very manner in which business was conducted in the state. Dependable access to power ensured predictable levels of productivity and drastically reduced labor- intensive work for which electric machines could now be handily applied. In turn, this had a spillover effect into the second pillar of Modi’s development plan: water.
Inefficient power use had exacerbated water shortages already common to Gujarat; 70% of the western state of India is classified as arid or semi-arid. As Modi began pushing his electricity program within the state, he simultaneously launched a massive water campaign to construct 11,000 water towers, 150 treatment and filtration plants, and over 116,000 km of water mains and subsidiary pipelines across the state. In keeping with his power shakti, Modi again stressed not just a buildup of capacity, but a focus on efficiency. Gujarati farmers were instructed on the principles of “micro water harvesting”, an irrigation technique used to optimize crop yield while minimizing water use. As a direct result of these efforts, in conjunction with the construction of over 110,000 local check dams and 2500 km of new canals, Gujarat was the only state in India in 2014 to actually see its water table rise, by 4 meters.
Modi recognized that all the dramatic improvements his state was making would be meaningless if they did not ultimately benefit the intended recipients: Gujarat’s poor. Modi was elected for his vision, and raising the standard of living for all the electorate across the state was a critical piece of his policy. The chief minister first sought to reverse the manner in which local government aid was distributed. Rather than empower the middle men who historically dispersed assistance to beneficiaries that actively sought out aid, Modi implemented a policy wherein government workers went out in search of eligible beneficiaries. This policy-reversal was implemented in lockstep witha new program to marginalize the hegemonyof centralized bureaucracy in the local decision making process. Modi offered a bounty to municipalities that could unanimously elect a single representative. The objective was to disrupt local decision paralysis and reward strong leadership. Finally, as a final component of his “people shakti”, Modi introduced evening courts to the Gujarati legal system to expedite the rate of case processing. Justice delayed is justice denied, and the new trial framework has lowered the proportion of outstanding cases in Gujarat to 2% of India’s total, though the state contains 5% of the national population.
Some of Modi’s greatest triumphs as chief minister have been in the arenas of industry and development, but his record in education continues to fuel critics despite a range of positive metrics coming out of that sector. For example, from 1991 to 2014, the literacy rate in Gujarat rose from 61.2% to 79.3%. This is against a nationwide increase from 52.2% to 74% in the same period. Additionally, Modi’s push for women’s rights resulted in a female literacy rate outpacing the growth in the national average over his tenure as chief minister; 57.8% to 70.7% from 2001-2011 versus 54.2% to 65.5% nationally. Another education statistic of note: dropout rates for primary school girls and middle school girls are down 90% and 80% respectively from 2001 to 2011. Women have historically been an underutilized component of Indian economic development. Modi’s record shows a strong initiative to develop and include the other 50% of India’s population in the continued emergence of the country onto the world stage.
Lastly, Modi’s record on social welfare and state security complete the picture of his tenure as Gujarat’s chief minister. Modi has said he does not believe in growth for the sake of growth, but instead seeks growth oriented toward “inclusive development”. Gujarat saw official poverty levels fall almost 50% during Modi’s tenure as chief minister, from 31.8% in 2004 to 16.6% in 2012. Another astonishing figure: per capita income tripled during his full tenure in conjunction with a GSDP (gross state domestic product) growth rate of 10% per year. Modi’s focus has been on the manufacturing sector, highlighted by notable state partnerships with companies like Tata Motors and Royal Dutch Shell, but the key takeaway is the effect that manufacturing jobs have on creating multiple layers of employment in society. By concentrating his efforts on agriculture and manufacturing first, Modi has created a wide foundation from which future development can base its growth. With regards to security and safety, Modi has overseen a stark transformation of his state from the riotous tinderbox of 2001 Gujarat to the 2014 Gujarat. Modi has been immune to the corruption of polarizing political favors; a novel concept to Indian government. He has broken the KHAM system of divisive, caste-based politics and ushered in an era of equality. Consider the famous anecdote of a journalist’s confrontation with Modi wherein the journalist demands to know what Modi has done for Muslims in his state.
“Nothing”, Modi says.
The journalist is scandalized: “So you admit it? Modi says, “Ask me what I have done for Hindus.”
“What have you done for Hindus?”
“Nothing. Everything I have done has been for Gujaratis.”
The biggest security takeaway of his entire administration: general improvements in equality, welfare, and prosperity have ensured that not a single riot has occurred in the entire state since 2002. Modi’s record is not without blemishes, but the progress in Gujarat is simply undeniable.
Prime Minister Modi: The Next Chapter
Modernization without westernization. This is Modi’s mantra. In over ten years as Gujarat’s chief minister, Modi shaped his image as an independent politician who, in the likeness of the American icon Teddy Roosevelt, “spoke softly and carried a big stick.” He built his credibility on a foundation of economic growth and individual empowerment, and on September 13, 2012, Modi was tapped as the prime ministerial candidate for the BJP. What challenges will he face as the elected leader of the world’s largest democracy? From a social and demographic perspective, India is more akin to the vibrant, dynamic energy of the melting pot that is called the United States than to the cool and reserved republics of Europe. This creates challenges alongside opportunities. India’s population is young and booming, and much more connected to the world than any previous generation due to the increasing pervasiveness of technology into the threads of Indian society. The people of India want fair governance. They want better roads and newer hospitals. The economy of India has been compared to a caged tiger itching to be freed from the vestiges of a feudal mentality. Modi must capitalize on the youthful energy of his country. He must take the successes of his revolutionary programs in Gujarat and implement them on a national level. In Gujarat, Modi was able to cut through bureaucratic red tape and push electricity and water out to thousands of villages across his state. He defied cronyism in favor of meritocracy, and he has placed Gujarat at the forefront of every conversation on 21st century Indian development. Will his ideas scale up from a state containing 60 million people to a nation teeming with 1.27 billion? His countrymen and the world are watching.