By leading his party to its third straight victory in the 2012 Gujarat assembly elections, with him at the helm, Narendra Modi paved the way for his appointment as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate for prime minister in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The controversial but charismatic Gujarat chief minister was born on September 17, 1950, at Vadnagar in Mehsana district of present-day Gujarat to Damodardas Mulchand and Heeraben. He sold tea at a stall as a child.
He was later employed with the state road transport and became a member of the Hindu nationalist organization RSS. After a stint at the RSS’ Nagpur headquarters he was given charge of the student wing of the Sangh in Gujarat. Meanwhile he continued his education, securing a Master’s degree in political science. He became a member of the BJP in the later eighties and played a major role in organizing the Ekta Yatra of BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi and helping the party win the 1995 Gujarat assembly polls.
Seeing his organizational skills, the BJP leadership made him party general secretary and he was sent to Delhi, in charge of party affairs in Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. He became BJP national secretary in 1998.
In October 2001 Modi replaced Keshubhai Patel as the chief minister of Gujarat. The state was due for polls in little over a year. Less than five months after he took over as chief minister, deadly anti-Muslim riots broke out in the state and hundreds of lives were lost. The riots occurred after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was burned, reportedly by a Muslim mob, killing 58 people.
Modi was severely criticized for failing to curb the post-Godhra violence but he maintained that he did all he could under the circumstances.
With several political parties calling for Modi’s resignation, he stepped down as chief minister and elections were held soon after. The BJP won after a very polarized campaign. In his second term as chief minister, Modi tried to underplay his hardline Hindutva image and focused instead on development, attracting investors to the state. He went on to win the 2007 assembly polls as well, becoming chief minister for the third term.
In 2010, the then Gujarat home minister Amit Shah, considered to be quite close to Modi, was arrested on charges of masterminding a fake encounter but later released on bail. In 2012, Maya Kodnani, a former minister in the Modi government, was convicted for her role in a massacre during the 2002 riots.
Despite these setbacks, Modi continued focusing on the development mantra, which both his critics and admirers started calling the “Gujarat model of development”. While a section of the political class, media and intelligentsia would always see Modi from the 2002 lens, others claimed that there was some merit in his claims of good governance and increased economic prosperity in Gujarat. In the latter group some stressed that Modi must reach out to Muslims in more visible ways to put 2002 behind him. At the same time Modi’s political opponents and some independent experts questioned the Gujarat development model citing economic as well as qualitative indicators. In the middle of all this, it was clear that Modi’s support base had grown far beyond Gujarat. Right-wing commentators pointed out that Gujarat’s record on riots was not worse than other states’, and the chief minister had ensured that there was no communal flare-up post 2002.
This, in short, was the backdrop to the 2012 Gujarat elections. The idea that once Modi crossed this hurdle there was no stopping him from being the BJP’s candidate for the country’s top post gained ground. When the results were out on December 20, 2012, Modi’s supporters were ecstatic. The significance of the victory, Modi’s third straight win that made him chief minister for the fourth term, was not lost on most observers. Outlook magazine noted: “Till December 20, 2012, he [Modi] was the Lord of Hype whose loyal followers fought for him on internet forums, media and hyper media, a creature of 3-D technology. Now, Modi has made fiction a reality and will make a bid for national prominence. As his ambitions propel him forward, he will force us to question assumptions about India. He has already challenged many earlier ones, broken many rules, smashed all opposition in his path, and prevailed.”
Describing him as the “secularists’ ogre”, Calcutta’s The Telegraph said that “this perception of him tends to rather obfuscate the fact that he has never compromised on his project to bring economic development and growth to Gujarat”. In the following months, the Modi script played out as many of his supporters had hoped: the BJP in September 2013 made him its prime ministerial candidate.
Also on this day:
1915 — Upendrokishore Ray, Bengali writer, technologist and entrepreneur, passed away
1970 — Sohail Khan, Bollywood filmmaker and actor, was born