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India's next PM has humble roots, focus on economy

India Elections

NEW DELHI (AP) - India's next prime minister, Narendra Modi, is the son of a poor tea seller and has long set his sights on the highest elected office in the world's largest democracy.

The top official in Gujarat state for over a decade, Modi often contrasted his humble roots with the posh background of his main rival, 43-year-old Rahul Gandhi, heir to India's most powerful political dynasty.

As the career politician led his Bharatiya Janata Party through a dazzling, high-tech election campaign, Modi called voters' attention to his mother riding a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw to cast her ballot earlier this month.

"I am the chief minister of a prosperous state ... And my 90-year-old mother goes to vote in an auto-rickshaw," the white-bearded Modi boasted, punching a fist through the air as he claimed his place by India's poor masses.

But despite playing up his folksy, common-man credentials, the 63-year-old Modi is widely seen as the darling of India's corporate world and a decisive, 21st-century administrator expected to revive job creation and economic growth.

Modi's singular message on the economy has helped him ignore or beat back criticism of his personal life - including his strong links to a right-wing Hindu nationalist group, as well as his four-decade marriage to a retired school teacher he had never mentioned publicly until last month.

Born in 1950, Modi will be India's first prime minister born after the country's violent 1947 partition and independence from imperial Britain.

His rise marks a paradigm shift for the secular democracy after decades of welfare policies that have emphasized lifting the country's impoverished. Modi has extolled the merits of trickle-down economics through industrialization.

He also has maintained strong links with the conservative, paramilitary Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, which some describe as neo-fascist.

The RSS "will have a substantial check on Modi. He is not going to be entirely his own man," said political analyst Kamal Mitra Chenoy of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Modi grew up in a poor village family, helping his father sell tea. At 18, he was married to a girl his parents had chosen five years earlier. The union never stuck, and Modi soon left to travel for several years before returning and joining the RSS as a propagandist in his early 20s. He and his wife never had children.

Having studied political science in Indian universities, Modi formally entered politics in 1985 with the BJP, regarded as the political arm of the RSS. He quickly gained a reputation as a talented orator and a workaholic, campaigning for the BJP in several elections before being chosen as Gujarat's highest elected official in 2001.

Modi and the BJP have been strategizing this campaign for years, launching Twitter accounts and promoting Gujarat's economy as one to emulate for development and modernity, though several Indian states topped Gujarat's average annual growth of 8.68 percent from 2001 to 2010.

Backed by enormous corporate wealth, Modi and the BJP ran an aggressive, tech-savvy campaign, sending out dozens of daily messages on social media sites and even having Modi appear virtually as a hologram at campaign events. Indian media quickly gave him the celebrity-like nickname of "NaMo."

"Wherever I went it was a delight to interact with local people. Social media also helped me understand their sentiments," he said in a Twitter message after balloting ended Monday.

Modi's links with the RSS, however, have alarmed liberals and secular critics who say he is not fit to lead a highly diverse nation roiling with communal tensions between castes, clans and religious groups.

Modi has also been dogged by criticism for failing to apologize for 2002 religious riots in Gujarat that killed at least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, during his tenure as chief minister. Modi has denied any role in the violence, and the Supreme Court said there was no case to bring against him. But suspicions were enough for the United States to refuse him a visa in 2005, while Britain only ended its diplomatic boycott on Modi in 2012.

Modi stoked those worries again last week, as he railed against Muslim migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

"You can see how Modi is tricky, but he's a quick learner and quick on his feet," Chenoy said. "Modi's idea of a statesman will be as a tough individual."

Analysts say Modi's success comes down to his ability to connect with the common man. He repeatedly has emphasized his origins outside New Delhi - and outside the country's elite classes. He usually speaks only Hindi, though he is reportedly working on his English now.

He constantly hammed it up for TV cameras while wearing colorful, traditional hats from various regions, always smiling.

"The kind of hope he's aroused is unprecedented. He'll have to deliver very quickly," political analyst Neerja Chowdhury said.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
yomkippur888 May 16 2014 at 8:52 AM

The ignorant middle classes clearly the illegitimate progeny of the left overs of the British see Modi's rise to power as being something to be ashamed and afraid of. They continue to pander to an era gone by which has only served to enrich India's idle rich and dynastic modern day Maharajahs and license raj.

Not so now. Their fears ought to be real. Someone will now draw back that curtain on their years of playing Ms. Faversham dumped by the British at independence.

India's intelligencia and social sets are a disgrace to the nation. Playing the house ****** to western imperialists still pulling their strings in the background in a dirty old shadow play in the dimply lit streets of its major cities.

Modi should go to or invite the Chinese first into India along with the Russians and Brazilians. Lets give Obama and his administration a cavity search if they chose to come. Confiscate the loot from the Nehru dynasty and ban them from politics and public life forever. Jai Hind.

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3 replies
hlvme2 May 16 2014 at 12:20 PM

No matter the government in this world, Chang can be good if the heart of its leaders is good. I pray that Modi will be an honorable man and together fight against crime and abuse on women and girls. The same respect he has for his mother, he will see to it that men come to justice for abusing women.

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1 reply
savannahswithgod hlvme2 May 16 2014 at 5:44 PM

With Greed and Power upon this planet, you aint going to get much change? Add religion into it and you strike out. Now what is India's favorite game, does that have strikes? Greed and Power is bringing a World War to us, can't see that being stopped. But different people in power than those that have been in power may do something, always Hope. The Creator told me Hope way back, took about 5 years for that to play out for me. That was 10 or so years ago so time that returned for all and to save the planet, make it a better place for all. Modi 4 letters, Hope 4 letters!

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bkothari786 May 16 2014 at 12:06 PM

very good for country, very proud of my home state gujarat , first chife minister of gujarat was from my hometown and he will be first prime minester of Bharat from gujarat.

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1 reply
prgrsiv bkothari786 May 16 2014 at 12:25 PM

.......Neo-Fascist good for the country...........don't think so...........

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aikatpa May 16 2014 at 11:14 AM

Good for India. A very humble and smart individual

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1 reply
prgrsiv aikatpa May 16 2014 at 12:26 PM


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1 reply
bsetrader1 prgrsiv May 16 2014 at 2:24 PM

Exactly what I mean by tortured logic and internal contradictions. This will be a staple feature of the cognitive dissonance of the Western media. Most of the correspondents have never met a Hindu, only the secular elite who peddle in favoritism, bribes, and the sort of corruption that has ruined India over the past 5 years.

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koos458 May 16 2014 at 11:04 AM

We've seen this before and it won't work. Basically, they just elected a TEA Party candidate funded by the India version of the Koch Bros.

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1 reply
visconti24 koos458 May 16 2014 at 11:18 AM

Hit the nail on the head! He will last 2 years as premier. I know India enough to know that voters will experience remorse.
Ragupati ragava raja Ram
Patita pavana sitah Ram
Ishwara Allah tereh nam
Sabko sanmati de Bagawan.

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wagh64 May 16 2014 at 11:01 AM

Media must stop using Hindu nationalistic party to identify BJP. All Indian political parties which participate in national elections MUST firstly accept Indian constitution. It is a twisted logic to identify one party as Hindu nationalistic party and called the other one Indian national congress. This kind of journalism promoted by Western media. Does anyone call any political party in west as Christian nationalistic party?

The west must mend its relationship with India. It need to reexamine India's role as a friend and an ally, a democratic partner. Indian Americans have continued to enrich the west and instead of ignoring their land of origin, its time America receives this election's verdict with grace, openness and friendship, instead of hostility, suspicion and heavily conditional relationship based on punishment.

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3 replies
Mike May 16 2014 at 10:17 AM

He looks dirty.

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sugarcreekchile May 16 2014 at 12:41 PM

All Modi has to do to get a visa to the US is to change his name to Ahmadinejad, deny the holocaust and express hatred for Christians and Jews, the US, Britain and Israel. That's PC, not liking Muslims or wanting Muslim migrants working in India isn't.

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1 reply
jitendra5916 sugarcreekchile May 16 2014 at 5:10 PM

That sounds like the Christians that were in India before 1947.

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genemolyhan May 16 2014 at 9:47 AM

I agree that he will one of the best prime minister India will have.
He has changed the face of Gujarat. He is not going to milk the country...It is time that people of India has spoke by giving him the majority...

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Mickey Shahon May 16 2014 at 12:29 PM

AOL & Huffington News Service are so Liberal leaning the fact of Modi being so conservative must be really aggrevating.

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1 reply
bsetrader1 Mickey Shahon May 16 2014 at 2:17 PM

No doubt and they will resort to tortured logic to turn the BJP into the GOP and make all sorts of simplistic and false analogies to turn India into a Zionist-Hindufascist country.

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