--- Manoj Saxena
Narendra Modi (center) at the 24th India Economic Summit held in New Delhi, 2008 (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons).
The reason why Narendra Modi — Bhartiya Janta Party's candidate for the post of Prime Minister of India — is the news maker of choice is simple: History's largest elections have begun in India and this man is tipped off to be the favorite by the some of the most credible sources in the world. If an electoral victory by Modi is achieved then he will be in charge of the Republic of India: The world's largest democracy, a rising economy, and a nuclear power. Thus far his allies like their chances because until now Modi's campaign has been nothing short of spectacular.
The Indian campaigner has made full use of the usual tools of election campaign promotion such as well organized rallies, a sea of posters, live television, newspaper, and radio with powerful effect. However, one unique strength of Modi's campaign lies in the mobilization of tech-savy urban middle class by a social media campaign which is unprecedented in India's history. His television interview with veteran host Rajat Sharma turned out to be one of the biggest in the country and he remains the most followed Indian politician on Twitter, comfortably overtaking all opposition. With a track record of economic growth, infrastructure building, and poverty reduction that invites praise from even the staunchest of adversaries the no-nonsense three time Chief Minister of the Gujarat state is vying for the top job in India and thus far he seems unstoppable.
Narendra Modi has unique strengths. He is viewed as an able technocrat with high standards of administrative ability but at the same time his background reads like something out of a Bollywood movie. From an early age the young Modi supposedly made a living by selling tea in Gujarat. He later joined the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and worked his way up to the post of the Chief Minister of the Gujarat state in 2001. His tenure in Gujarat means different things to different people. To the business class and the common man his three successive terms have meant widespread development, which made him a popular leader among large sections of the Gujarati population. His re-elections were largely won on his ability to consistently deliver on development, which is rather remarkable in context of a developing and chaotic India. On the other hand his inability to put a swift end to the 2002 Gujarat Riots remains as a major administrative failure of his government. He has been acquitted by the Supreme Court of India of all charges suggesting his involvement in the riots but opposition parties continue to point towards the 2002 violence as a mark of his administrative weakness.
The world community, including the European Union and the United States of America, seems to have warmed up to Modi since then and big businesses both from within India and outside are full of praise for the Indian leader. The sentiment for change in India is further fueled by a badly managed economy and massive corruption under the incumbent United Progressive Alliance government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has been called weak and subservient to the Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi by his top aides.
Modi's chief opponent Rahul Gandhi pales in comparison. The Indian National Congress led by Gandhi is expected to deliver the weakest electoral performance in its history under the leadership of the young scion of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi family. The ability of the western educated, English speaking Rahul Gandhi to address mass rallies in the Indian heartland seems to be limited. However, the former anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal has mounted a tough social media campaign against both Modi and Gandhi. Kejriwal performed dramatically well in the Delhi elections and upset the incumbent Chief Minister Sheila Dixit. Since the two face off at the Varanasi seat a showdown is expected at the very least. However, Kejriwal's track record as Delhi Chief Minister remains sketchy at best and his exit from power is an embarrassment that his Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man Party) will have to contend with.
If elected, the policies of the NDA government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi are expected to be an extension of what we have already seen in Gujarat and during the Vajpayee led NDA government (1998-2004). Modi tends to favor Foreign Direct Investment and therefore should work towards attracting investment from abroad. He enjoys a friendly relationship with key leaders such as Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The BJP under the Vajpayee administration was seen to be pro-US and pro-West while maintaining its ties with traditional friends such as Russia and the Arab world and that is likely to continue. However, the real challenge will be Modi's policy on China. Towering figures in the BJP such as former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh have called for better relations between the two countries. The relations have indeed been improving during the last two decades but if elected will Modi be able to do better than his predecessor Manmohan Singh when it comes to improving trade, military, and diplomatic ties with China is the question that remains to be answered. If Modi makes it to the top job in India that is. And that remains a big if.