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Missionary India’s Modi conundrum

With the Bharatiya Janata Party now openly uniting under the Modi banner and doing all but formally declaring the Gujarat chief minister as the prime ministerial candidate for the party, the country as a whole must prepare to tackle the Modi conundrum head on. Major figureheads of the BJP have been lining up to sing praises for Narendra Modi, with Arun Jaitley declaring that despite the ‘media blitzkrieg’, the ‘groundswell’ of support for the current face of the party is only growing bigger. As BJP is looking to ride the surging wave of Modi’s ‘pro-people, good governance’ campaign, it is certain that the saffron brigade is banking on Modimania amongst the middle and business classes to dethrone the UPA from the seat of power. Modi’s pre-eminence in the party at the BJP National Executive meeting in Delhi on Saturday saw Rajnath Singh extolling the virtues of the thrice victorious Gujarat CM, a far cry from the party’s earlier ambivalence about the latter’s severely dented secular credentials. BJP’s embracing of Modi’s candidature comes in the wake of the CM’s gradual international acceptance, with the European Union ending its ‘diplomatic boycott’ of Modi for his implicit involvement in the 2002 Gujarat pogroms. Clearly, brand Modi has begun to cast its net far and wide, and his track record of bringing in investment has started weighing heavier than his lack of remorse for the genocide of Muslims in his home state.

However, the backlash against Narendra Modi has not quite fizzled out, as evident in the protests that took place in Delhi when he came to deliver a speech at Sri Ram College of Commerce. The latest row that reflects the schizophrenia surrounding him comes from the discomfort that the management of the Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania is confronted with, as a number of left-wing academicians and students have written a strongly-worded letter to drop the Gujarat CM’s keynote address scheduled on 23 March at the Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF) at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. Obviously, Modi still hasn’t been granted a visa to travel to US, and the speech is supposed to be delivered by video-conferencing, distinctly indicating that Modi has enough reinforcement amongst the transnational affluent classes both within India and the Non-Resident Indians and Indian-Americans in the US. However, the political opinion in India, as well as in the international community, is still split vertically when it comes to Modi’s suitability as the leader of a sovereign, secular democracy. Criticism of the authoritarian streak in Modi has been round for a long time now, and a section of Indian media openly prefers the dynastic libertarianism of Congress-led UPA to the iron-handed governance that the CM is known to advocate. Moreover, although several BJP allies, such as Nitish Kumar, are still critical of Modi’s positioning as the face of the party, the latter’s emphasis on ‘BJP’s mission’ as opposed to the corruption-ridden Congress’ ‘commission’ is bound to reinvigorate the saffron party’s dipping prospects.
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