Narendra Modi could be the next Prime Minister of India

English: Image of Narendra Modi at the World E...

Narendra Modi – Wikipedia

If the Gujarat riots of 2002 had not happened, Narendra Modi would have an easy- and almost pre-ordained path – to becoming the nominated Prime Minister of the Bharatiya Janata Party. With his record in Gujarat he ought to be the “natural” choice of his party. As the only other political party having a national presence, the BJP has a very good chance of replacing the Indian Congress Party as the largest party and the party of government at the next general elections in 2014.  But the BJP lacks leaders of any stature – apart from Modi. The party President is himself badly tainted by corruption charges. The leaders of the past are approaching senility. Their Young Turks of 10 years ago come across as a whiny bunch who oppose for the sake of opposing and have no convictions of their own. Without a credible PM candidate having some national appeal the BJP may – at best –  only just get to be the largest party but would have the most horrendous task of creating a majority in Parliament. But there are still strong factions within the party who do not much like him. Not because of the “anti-Muslim” taint which hangs over Modi as the legacy of the Gujarat riots; but because he is just a little bit too efficient, too decisive and most of all, too “incorruptible”.

The BJP have few other leaders who have Modi’s undoubted competence and his ability to assemble competence. They have no other leaders with his charisma. He has been one of the very few regional leaders who has had the nerve to be a leader – with some kind of vision of where he wants to go – rather than a populist follower (like Mamata Banerjee). In India, populist politicians – no matter how criminal or venal or incompetent – have usually been able to ride the wave of their vote-banks into power. But that is changing as the Indian electorate becomes more discerning and more sophisticated though still dominated by caste. So it seems likely that the BJP establishment will reluctantly – and with some fears for their own futures – unite behind Modi. They have little choice with his unprecedented success in Gujarat:

Narendra Modi will take oath a fourth time as Gujarat Chief Minister at 11 am today. …. Mr Modi began his morning by tweeting a Vivekananda quote, as he is wont to do. “To make a great future India, the whole secret lies in organization…co-ordination of wills,” he said on Twitter.

It has been conventional wisdom that Modi has been fatally tainted by the Gujarat riots. But this is the conventional wisdom of the urban, semi-liberal middle-class. But I see this view changing mainly because even the urban middle-class see – especially in comparisons with China –  that a chaotic democracy holds back economic development. Political decisiveness a la Modi is seen as something which could unlock the Indian potential which is being held stagnant by corruption and the constant interplay of opposing factional interests. There is a mood abroad in the urban, middle-classes that “a Modi” is needed to bring an end to the institutionalised corruption in the country. There is a groundswell of support for the movement started by Anna Hazare but neither he nor Kejriwal are seen as being capable of implementing the ideals of the anti-corruption movement. These two forces – unlocking economic development and the fight against corruption – will convince the liberal-left middle-class to rationalise their views of Modi. He will not be completely forgiven for his role in the Gujarat riots but the taint will fade. Just as the Congress leaders implicated in the anti-Sikh riots following the assassination of Indira Gandhi reinstated themselves with the help of supportive Sikhs, Modi is rebranding himself with the help of supportive Muslims. His former opponents are applying selective memory. Already other non-Congress regional leaders are positioning themselves to be able to support Modi  when – no longer “if” – he becomes the PM candidate for the BJP.

Internationally, Modi was condemned in many quarters. But international politics is ultimately about pragmatic self-interest. If he becomes Prime Minister, it will not take long for countries – especially in Europe to come around. After all, to be seen to be anti-Muslim is quite acceptable in Europe even if Modi would like to tone down that perception. He already has the sympathy of China and Russia who struggle with containing their own Muslim minorities. His visa to the US was revoked in 2005 and the UK avoided him like a pariah for 10 years before reinstating contact in October this year.

But it his acceptance across India which counts. If he can succeed in getting some support from the Muslims across India – and this is not implausible – and if he can gain the support of the urban middle-class – which is already happening – the regional party leaders will also back him and the rest of their sheep will fall in line. For the elections in 2014, to be seen as being incorruptible, a “fighter against corruption” and to be seen as being an efficient CEO could trump all other perceived sins.

And that could make Narendra Modi the first Prime Minister after Rajiv Gandhi having a national stature, an administrative competence and a vision of his own that could be fun to watch.

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