Narendra Damodardas Modi (born 17 September 1950) is the 15th and current Prime Minister of India, in office since 26 May 2014. Modi, a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was the Chief Minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014 and is the Member of Parliament (MP) from Varanasi. He led the BJP in the 2014 general election, which gave the party a majority in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian parliament) – a first for any party since 1984 – and was credited for October 2014 BJP electoral victories in the states of Haryana and Maharashtra.
The prime minister, a Hindu nationalist, is a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and is a controversial figure domestically and internationally; his administration was criticised for its failure to prevent the 2002 Gujarat riots. Although Modi’s economic policies (credited with encouraging economic growth in Gujarat) have been praised, his administration has also been criticised for failing to significantly improve the human development in the state.
Modi was born on 17 September 1950 to a family of grocers in Vadnagar, Mehsana district, Bombay State (present-day Gujarat). His family belonged to the Ghanchi–Teli (oil-presser) community, which is categorised as an Other Backward Class by the Indian government. He was the third of six children born to Damodardas Mulchand (1915-1989) and Heeraben Modi (b. c. 1920). As a child Modi helped his father sell tea at the Vadnagar railway station, and later ran a tea stall with his brother near a bus terminus. He completed his higher secondary education in Vadnagar in 1967, where a teacher described him as an average student and a keen debater with an interest in theatre. An early gift for rhetoric in debates was noted by teachers and students. Modi preferred playing larger-than-life characters in theatrical productions, which has influenced his political image.
At age eight Modi discovered the RSS, and began attending its local shakhas (training sessions). There he met Lakshmanrao Inamdar, popularly known as Vakil Saheb, who inducted him as an RSS balswayamsevak (junior cadet) and became his political mentor. While Modi was training with the RSS he also met Vasant Gajendragadkar and Nathalal Jaghda, Bharatiya Jana Sangh leaders who were founding members of the BJP’s Gujarat unit in 1980.
Engaged while still a child to a local girl, Jashodabehn, Modi rejected the arranged marriage at the same time he graduated from high school. The resulting familial tensions contributed to his decision to leave home in 1967. He spent the ensuing two years travelling across northern and north-eastern India, though few details of where he went have emerged. In interviews, Modi has described visiting Hindu ashrams founded by Swami Vivekananda: the Belur Math near Kolkata, followed by the Advaita Ashrama in Almora and the Ramakrishna mission in Rajkot. He remained only a short time at each, since he lacked the required college education. Reaching the Belur Math in the early summer of 1968 and being turned away, Modi wandered through Calcutta, West Bengal and Assam, stopping by Siliguri and Guwahati. He then went to the Ramakrishna ashram in Almora, where he was again rejected, before travelling back to Gujarat via Delhi and Rajasthan in 1968-69. Sometime in late 1969 or early 1970, Modi returned to Vadnagar for a brief visit before leaving again for Ahmedabad. There he lived with his uncle, working in the latter’s canteen at the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation. In Ahmedabad Modi renewed his acquaintance with Inamdar, who was based at Hedgewar Bhavan (RSS headquarters) in the city. After the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, he stopped working for his uncle and became a full–time pracharak (campaigner) for the RSS. In 1978 Modi became an RSS sambhaag pracharak (regional organiser), and received a degree in political science after a distance-education course from Delhi University. Five years later, he received a Master of Arts degree in political science from Gujarat University.
On 26 June 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency in India which lasted until 1977. During this period, many of her political opponents were jailed and opposition groups (including the RSS) were banned. As pracharak in-charge of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the RSS, Modi was forced to go underground in Gujarat and frequently traveled in disguise to avoid arrest. He became involved in printing pamphlets opposing the government, sending them to Delhi and organising demonstrations. During this period Modi wrote a Gujarati book, Sangharsh ma Gujarat (The Struggles of Gujarat), describing events during the Emergency.
He was assigned by the RSS to the BJP in 1985. In 1988 Modi was elected organising secretary of the party’s Gujarat unit, marking his entrance into electoral politics. He rose within the party, helping organise L. K. Advani‘s 1990 Ayodhya Rath Yatra in 1990 and Murli Manohar Joshi‘s 1991–92 Ekta Yatra (Journey for Unity). As party secretary, Modi’s electoral strategy was considered central to BJP victory in the 1995 state assembly elections. In November of that year Modi was elected BJP national secretary and transferred to New Delhi, where he assumed responsibility for party activities in Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The following year, Shankersinh Vaghela (one of the most prominent BJP leaders in Gujarat) defected to the INC after losing his parliamentary seat in the Lok Sabha elections. Modi, on the selection committee for the 1998 Assembly elections in Gujarat, favoured supporters of BJP leader Keshubhai Patel over those supporting Vaghela to end factional division in the party. His strategy was credited as key to the BJP winning an overall majority in the 1998 elections, and Modi was promoted to BJP general secretary (organisation) in May of that year.
In 2001, Keshubhai Patel’s health was failing and the BJP had lost seats in the by-elections. Allegations of abuse of power, corruption and poor administration were made, and Patel’s standing had been damaged by his administration’s handling of the 2001 Bhuj Earthquake. The BJP national leadership sought a new candidate for chief minister, and Modi (who had expressed misgivings about Patel’s administration) was chosen as a replacement. Although senior BJP leader L. K. Advani did not want to ostracise Patel and was concerned about Modi’s lack of experience in government, Modi declined an offer to be Patel’s deputy chief minister and told Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee he was “going to be fully responsible for Gujarat or not at all”. On 3 October 2001 he replaced Patel as Chief Minister of Gujarat, with the responsibility of preparing the BJP for the December 2002 elections. As Chief Minister, Modi favoured privatisation and small government; this was at odds with political commentator Aditi Phadnis‘ description of the RSS as anti-privatisation and anti-globalisation.
On 7 October 2001, Modi was administered the oath of office. He then won a 24 February 2002 Rajkot – II assembly election, defeating Ashwin Mehta of the Indian National Congress (INC) by 14,728 votes.
On 27 February 2002 a train with several hundred passengers, including a large number of Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya after a religious ceremony at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid, was burned near Godhra; about 60 people were killed. In the wake of rumours that the fire was set by Muslim arsonists, anti-Muslim violence spread through Gujarat. Estimates of that death toll ranged from 900 to over 2,000, with several thousand injured. The Modi government imposed a curfew in major cities, issued shoot-at-sight orders and called for the army to prevent the violence from escalating, but human rights organisations, opposition parties and some media accused the Gujarat government of taking insufficient action against the riots (to the point of condoning them). Modi’s decision to move the bodies of the Kar Sevak train victims from Godhra to Ahmedabad was criticised for inflaming the violence.
In March 2008 the Supreme Court asked the state government to re-investigate nine cases from the 2002 riots (including the Gulbarg Society massacre), establishing a Special Investigation Team (SIT). In response to a petition from Zakia Jafri (widow of Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in the Gulbarg Society massacre), in April 2009 the court asked the SIT to investigate her allegation that Modi and another minister were complicit in the killings. The SIT questioned Modi in March 2010; in May, it presented to the court a report finding no evidence to substantiate the allegations. In July 2011, amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran submitted his final report to the court: contrary to the SIT position, Modi could be prosecuted based on the available evidence. The team criticised Ramachandran’s report for relying on testimony from Sanjiv Bhatt, who they said fabricated the documents used as evidence. The Supreme Court gave the matter to the magistrate court, with the SIT examining Ramachandran’s report. The team submitted its final report in March 2012 seeking closure of the case, with Zakia Jaffri filing a protest petition in response. In December 2013 the magistrate court rejected the protest petition, accepting the SIT’s finding that there was no evidence against the chief minister.
Modi’s involvement in the 2002 events has continued to be debated. Several scholars have described them as a pogrom, while others have called them state terrorism. Summarising academic views on the subject, Martha Nussbaum said: “There is by now a broad consensus that the Gujarat violence was a form of ethnic cleansing, that in many ways it was premeditated, and that it was carried out with the complicity of the state government and officers of the law.” In 2012 Maya Kodnani, a minister in Modi’s government from 2007 to 2009, was convicted of participation in the Naroda Patiya massacre during the 2002 riots. Kodnani was the first woman and the first MLA to be convicted in a Godhra-riots case. Although Modi’s government had announced that it would seek the death penalty for Kodnani on appeal, in 2013 it retreated from that stance.
Several months after the riots, New York Times reporter Celia Dugger asked Modi if he wished he had handled the riots any differently. He replied that his only regret was not handling the news media better, accusing India’s NDTV channel of journalistic irresponsibility.
In the aftermath of the violence came widespread calls for Modi to resign as chief minister from within and outside the state, including leaders of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Telugu Desam Party (allies in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance coalition), and opposition parties stalled Parliament over the issue. Modi submitted his resignation, which was not accepted, at the April 2002 BJP national executive meeting in Goa. His cabinet had a 19 July 2002 emergency meeting, offered its resignation to the Gujarat Governor S. S. Bhandari and the assembly was dissolved. In the subsequent elections, the BJP won 127 seats in the 182-member assembly. Although Modi later denied it, he made significant use of anti-Muslim rhetoric during his campaign. He won the Maninagar constituency, receiving 1,13,589 of 1,54,981 votes and defeating INC candidate Yatin Oza by 75,333 votes. On 22 December 2002, Bhandari swore Modi in for a second term.
After accusations of anti-Muslim rhetoric during the campaign, during Modi’s second term his emphasis shifted from Hindutva to Gujarat’s economic development. He curtailed the influence of Sangh Parivar organisations such as the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), entrenched in the state after the decline of Ahmedabad’s textile industry, and dropped Gordhan Zadafia (an ally of former Sangh co–worker and VHP state chief Praveen Togadia) from his cabinet. When the BKS staged a farmers’ demonstration Modi ordered their eviction from state-provided houses, and his decision to demolish 200 illegal temples in Gandhinagar deepened the rift with the VHP. Sangh organisations were no longer consulted or informed in advance about Modi’s administrative decisions.
His 2002–07 changes have led to Gujarat’s description as an attractive investment destination. According to Aditi Phadnis, “There was sufficient anecdotal evidence pointing to the fact that corruption had gone down significantly in the state … if there was to be any corruption, Modi had to know about it”. He established financial and technology parks in Gujarat and during the 2007 Vibrant Gujarat summit, real-estate investment deals worth ₹6.6 trillion were signed in the state.
Despite his second-term focus on economic issues, Modi’s relationship with Muslims continued to be criticised. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (who asked Modi for tolerance in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat violence and supported his resignation as chief minister) distanced himself, reaching out to North Indian Muslims before the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. After the elections Vajpayee called the violence in Gujarat a reason for the BJP’s electoral defeat and said it had been a mistake to leave Modi in office after the riots.
During the run-up to the 2007 assembly elections and the 2009 general election, the BJP ramped up its rhetoric on terrorism. On 18 July 2006, Modi criticised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ” … for his reluctance to revive anti-terror legislation” such as the 2002 Prevention of Terrorism Act. He asked the national government to allow states to invoke tougher laws in the wake of the 2006 Mumbai blasts and demanded the execution of Afzal Guru, a collaborator with Pakistani jihadists who was convicted of terrorism for his involvement in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack. After the November 2008 Mumbai attacks Modi held a meeting to discuss the security of Gujarat’s 1,600-kilometre (990 mi)-long coastline, resulting in government authorisation of 30 high–speed surveillance boats. In July 2007 Modi completed 2,063 consecutive days as chief minister of Gujarat (making him the longest-serving holder of that post), and the BJP won 122 of 182 state-assembly seats in that year’s election.
Keshubhai Patel and Modi’s BJP governments supported NGOs and communities in the creation of groundwater-conservation projects; according to Tushaar Shah, Gujarat (a semi-arid state) was ” … never known for agrarian dynamism”. By December 2008 500,000 structures were built, of which 113,738 were check dams. While most check-dam impoundments dried up during the pre-monsoon period, they helped monsoon rains recharge the aquifers beneath them. Sixty of the 112 tehsils which were found to have depleted the water table in 2004 had regained their normal groundwater levels by 2010, and Gujarat increased its groundwater levels when they were falling in all other Indian states. As a result, the state’s production of genetically modified Bt cotton (which could now be irrigated with tube wells) increased to become the largest in India. The boom in cotton production and its semi–arid land use saw Gujarat’s agricultural growth increase to 9.6 percent from 2001 to 2007. Although public irrigation measures in central and southern Gujarat (such as the Sardar Sarovar Dam) have been less successful, from 2001 to 2010 Gujarat recorded an agricultural growth rate of 10.97 percent – the highest of any state. However, sociologists have pointed out that the growth rate under the 1992–97 INC government was 12.9 percent.
The Modi government brought electricity to every village in Gujarat, although according to Dipankar Banerjee all but 170 villages had been electrified under the INC administration. Modi significantly changed the state’s system of power distribution, greatly impacting farmers. Gujarat expanded the Jyotigram Yojana scheme, in which agricultural electricity was separated from other rural electricity; the agricultural electricity was rationed to fit scheduled irrigation demands, reducing its cost. Although early protests by farmers ended when those who benefited found that their electricity supply had stabilised, according to an assessment study corporations and large farmers benefited from the policy at the expense of small farmers and labourers.
Progress was made on the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City project, considered one of Modi’s pet projects. Its first phase, consisting of two skyscrapers (GIFT One and Two), was completed in 2012.
Modi’s government has branded Gujarat as a state of dynamic development, economic growth and prosperity with the slogan, “Vibrant Gujarat”. However, critics have pointed to its relatively poor record on human development, poverty relief, nutrition and education. Gujarat ranks 13th in India in poverty and 21st in education. Nearly 45 percent of children under five are underweight and 23 percent are undernourished, putting the state in the “alarming” category on the India State Hunger Index. According to state officials, Gujarat outperformed India as a whole in improving several human-development indicators (such as female education) from 2001 to 2011; school drop-out rates declined from 20 percent in 2001 to two percent in 2011, and maternal mortality fell by 32 percent during the same period. In a review of the 1894 Land Acquisition Act, the Supreme Court of India identified Gujarat as one of the few states from which there were no complaints of forcible land acquisition.
According to political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot, development in Gujarat has been limited to the urban middle class as rural residents and the lower castes have become increasingly marginalised. The state ranks 10th of the 21 Indian states in the Human Development Index, which he attributes to less rural development. Jaffrelot says that under Modi the number of families below the poverty line has increased and conditions for rural adivasi and dalits, in particular, have declined. In July 2013 economics Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen expressed disapproval of Modi’s governance record, saying that under his administration Gujarat’s “record in education and healthcare is pretty bad”. However, economists Arvind Panagariya and Jagdish Bhagwati say that Gujarat’s social indicators have improved from a lower baseline than that of other Indian states. According to them, Gujarat’s performance in raising literacy rates has been superior to other states and the “rapid” improvement of health indicators is evidence that “its progress has not been poor by any means.”
In the 2012 Gujarat Legislative Assembly elections, Modi won the constituency of Maninagar by 86,373 votes over Shweta Bhatt, the INC candidate and wife of Sanjiv Bhatt. The BJP won 115 of the 182 seats, continuing its majority during his tenure and allowing the party to form the government (as it had in Gujarat since 1995). In later by-elections the BJP won four more assembly seats and two Lok Sabha seats held by the INC, although Modi did not campaign for its candidates. In 2013, the Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF) at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania cancelled a keynote video-conference speech by Modi following protests by Indian-Americans. After his election as prime minister, Modi resigned as chief minister and surrendered his MLA seat from Maninagar on 21 May 2014 after a speech described as emotional. Anandiben Patel was selected as his replacement.
Modi played a significant role in the BJP’s 2009 general-election campaign.
On 31 March 2013 Modi was appointed to the BJP parliamentary board, the highest decision-making body in the party, and at the party’s 9 June national executive meeting he was appointed chair of the BJP’s central election campaign committee for the 2014 general election. Senior leader and founding member Lal Krishna Advani resigned his party posts after the appointment in protest of leaders who were “concerned with their personal agendas”. His resignation, which was described by The Times of India as “a protest against Narendra Modi’s elevation as the chairman of the party’s election committee”, was withdrawn the following day at the urging of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. In September 2013, the BJP announced that the chief minister would be their candidate for prime minister in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
Modi was a candidate in two constituencies: Varanasi and Vadodara. During the campaign, he pledged to speed government decision-making and remove bureaucratic hurdles which slowed development. He won in both constituencies, defeating Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal in Varanasi and Madhusudan Mistry of the INC in Vadodara by 570,128 votes. The BJP-led NDA won the general election overall and the INC experienced its worst-ever defeat. Modi, who was unanimously elected leader of the BJP after his party’s victory, was appointed prime minister by India’s president. To comply with the rule that an MP cannot have two constituencies, he vacated the Vadodara seat. In what CNN described as “India’s first social media election”, Modi used Twitter, Facebook, Google Hangouts and holograms for campaign appearances. His victory tweet was the most re-tweeted in India.
Modi was sworn in on 26 May 2014 at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He was the first to invite all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation leaders to attend his swearing-in ceremony. His first cabinet consisted of 45 ministers, 25 fewer than the previous government.
To attract foreign investment to Gujarat when he was chief minister Modi visited China, Singapore and Japan, travelling to China in November 2006 (to study the country’s special economic zones, about to be implemented in Gujarat), September 2007 and November 2011. A month after his 2011 visit the Chinese government released 13 Indian diamond traders charged with smuggling in Shenzhen, with Modi attributing their release to his diplomacy and statesmanship.
His relationship with many Western nations was troubled during his tenure as chief minister, with questions about his role in the 2002 riots resulting in travel bans to the UK, the US and the EU. Modi was barred from entering the United States under a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act banning violators of religious freedom, the only person denied a US visa under this provision. The UK and the European Union refused to admit him because of what they saw as his role in the riots. As Modi rose to prominence in India, the UK and the EU lifted their bans in October 2012 and March 2013, respectively, and after his election as prime minister he was invited to Washington.
In 2011 the Karachi Chamber of Commerce & Industry, impressed with development in Gujarat, invited Modi to visit Pakistan and address business leaders who asked him to consider a flight between Ahmedabad and Karachi because of the cultural and economic relationships between Gujarat and Sindh. Modi wanted to ease Pakistan’s power crisis, (particularly in Sindh), and suggested that the country could follow the examples of the “Gujarat model” set by Gujarat Solar Park and the Kalpasar Project. In an April 2014 statement described as “unexpected”, senior Pakistani diplomats told The Daily Telegraph that Modi was their choice for prime Minister “as he could provide the strong leadership necessary for peace talks”.
Modi visited Japan in 2012. According to Ryohei Kasai, research fellow at the Center for South Asian Studies at Gifu Women’s University, “There is a growing interest in Modi in Japan with much anticipation that he will reshape India by revitalising its economy and better governance. I believe Japan has an excellent relationship with him. Not only have successive Japanese ambassadors to India been regular guests in ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ investors’ summit (organised biennially) but Japanese private companies also made a big amount of investment in the state.”
Modi invited leaders of the SAARC countries to his swearing-in as prime minister to strengthen ties among its member states. Continuing his efforts to promote close relationships with neighbouring countries, his first foreign visit as prime minister was to Bhutan. Modi visited Nepal on 8 August 2014, and began a five-day trip to Japan on 30 August. On 17 September, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in India; financial memoranda of understanding and cooperation agreements between the countries were signed, which Modi called a new chapter in their economic relationship. The prime minister had a successful visit to the United States in the last week of September, which led to an improvement in relations between India and the US. In a 27 September address to the United Nations General Assembly Modi asked for the adoption of 21 June as International Yoga Day, and a resolution doing so was approved by the 193-member body.
The third of six children, Modi has two elder brothers, Som (b. 1944) and Amrit (b. 1948). He has a younger sister, Vasanti (b. 1952) and two younger brothers, Prahlad (b. 1955) and Pankaj (b. 1958).
In accordance with Ghanchi tradition, Modi’s marriage was arranged by his parents when he was a child. He was engaged at age 13 to Jashodaben Chimanlal, marrying her when he was 18. They spent little time together and grew apart when Modi began two years of travel, including visits to Hindu ashrams. Reportedly, their marriage was never consummated and he kept it a secret because otherwise he could not have become a ‘pracharak’ in the puritan Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). Although Modi kept his marriage secret for most of his career, acknowledging his wife when he filed his nomination for a parliamentary seat in the 2014 general elections.
A vegetarian, Modi has a frugal lifestyle and is a workaholic and introvert. Adept at using social media, since September 2014 he has been the second-most-followed leader in the world (with over twelve million followers on Twitter a son May 2015). Modi’s 31 August 2012 post on Google Hangouts made him the first Indian politician to interact with netizens on live chat.
Modi has also been called a fashion-icon with his signature, crisply ironed, half-sleeved tunic-shirt (dubbed the “Modi kurta“), brand-name accessories, and a suit with his name embroidered repeatedly in the pinstripes that he wore during a state visit by US President Barack Obama, drawing particular public and media attention, and sometimes criticism.
Although he has been called a controversial, polarising and divisive figure by media sources, British economist Jim O’Neill (author of “Building Better Global Economic BRICs“) blogged that Modi is “good on economics” – one of the things “India desperately needs in a leader”. In August 2013, financial analyst Chris Wood of CLSA wrote in his weekly “Greed & fear” report: “The Indian stock market’s greatest hope is the emergence of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate”.
Modi received the Gujarat Ratna award at the Ganesh Kala Krida Manch Shri Poona Gujarati Bandhu Samaj centenary celebration and the e-Ratna Award from the Computer Society of India. He was named Best Chief Minister in a 2007 nationwide survey by India Today, and won the Asian 2009 fDi Personality of the Year award from FDi magazine. In March 2012 Modi appeared on the cover of the Asian edition of Time, one of the few Indian politicians to have done so, and made the 2014 Time 100 list of the world’s most influential people. He has become the most followed Asian leader on Twitter, and in 2014 was ranked the 15th-most-powerful person in the world by Forbes. In 2015, Modi was one of Time ’s “30 most influential people on the internet” as the second-most-followed politician on Twitter and Facebook. In 2015, Modi was ranked 5th on Forbes magazine’s list of ‘World’s Greatest Leaders’.