Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Profile of India's Narendra Modi

In the April 2009 Atlantic, Robert D. Kaplan profiles Narendra Modi, who is currently the chief minister of Gujarat and who Kaplan predicts might one day become the prime minister of India. Kaplan describes Modi as "a new kind of hybrid politician - part CEO with prodigious management abilities, part rabble-rouser with a fierce ideological following - who is both impressive and disturbing in his own right ... certainly the most charismatic Indian political leader since Indira Gandhi in the 1970's."

This article is fascinating (incidentally, Kaplan cites to Edward Luce's book In Spite of the Gods for background on the Gujarat violence of 2002).

Modi is a member of and leading force within the Bharatiya Janata Party. He has contributed to Gujarat's becoming an economic powerhouse -- it is the Indian province which is experiencing the most domestic and foreign investment over the past several years, and Kaplan credits Modi's obsessions with efficiency and development programs (he has visited 3,000 of Gujarat's 7,000 villages) for this economic growth.

His slogan is "less government, more governance" (I can see certain political groups in the US really liking this framework).

Kaplan also, however, focuses on Modi's dark side, including his alleged role in the massacre of Muslims in 2002, his refusal to acknowledge those events, and his outright and virulent racism/sectarianism against Muslims. In fact, Kaplan devotes a section of the article to whether Modi can rightly be called a fascist - and points out that for some Indians his fascist tendencies are actually part of his appeal ("[an Indian scholar told me that] because of the nightmarish chaos of Indian cities, 'there are at least some in this country ready to accept a fascist, or at least a very strong dictator'").

Ultimately, I think Kaplan means for his article to be both pessimistic and cautionary - pessimistic because it paints a portrait of India (or, at least, Gujarat) that is becoming more segregated over time with respect to the Hindu/Muslim divide and cautionary because "Modi's popularity and influence in the BJP mean that he could one day be governing the world's largest democracy."

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