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A bright future beckons for ascetic politician from the Other Backwards

NO sooner had the BJP secured a landslide success in last week's elections in India than the party's leader Narendra Modi tweeted a three-word message to his supporters:

"India has won."

The 63-year-old self-styled Hindu nationalist was being unnecessarily self-effacing. Having run a presidential-style campaign, he had led the BJP to a stunning victory which had seen them topple the ruling Congress Party and dominate both the rural and the urban electorate.

Although the BJP had been expected to do well, no-one could have foreseen the extent of its triumph and there had been question marks over Modi's ability to run a campaign.

Something of a divisive figure in Indian politics, loved and loathed in equal measure, his term in office as chief minister of his home state of Gujarat had not been an unalloyed success.

While he had been credited for running a strict and business-like economy he failed to deal with an outbreak of communal violence in 2002 when a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire, killing around 60 in the subsequent conflagration.

The blame was placed on Muslim arsonists and this led to reprisals with anything up to 2000 being killed in the violence which followed.

Modi reacted with a heavy hand by using the army to quell riots and permitting them to use a shoot-to-kill policy.

In the aftermath there were calls for Modi to resign but the incident did nothing to dent his popularity and he survived an official government investigation.

In the elections which followed later in the year the BJP won 127 seats of the 182 in Gujarat's regional assembly.

In his second term in office, Modi concentrated on attracting inward investment in Gujarat by introducing tax breaks and creating technology parks as well as by improving the state's infrastructure. Gujarat has long been plagued by drought and one of Modi's most notable innovations was the work carried out to improve dams and waterways within the state, all to the benefit of the rural population. By the time of the 2007 elections, he was the longest-serving holder of the post of chief minister.

However, Modi continued to be dogged by accusations that he was anti-Muslim and he did little to alter that impression through his public pronouncements.

Following the bombing outrages in Mumbai in 2006 involving Islamic terrorists, he called for the introduction of tougher laws and he demanded the death sentence for the jihadist Mohammad Afzal Guru who was implicated in a bombing attack in Delhi in 2001. (Although he was sentenced to death Guru was reprieved only for the sentence to be carried out secretly in February last year.)

Conversely, Modi's reputation did nothing to harm his standing within the Hindu community. On the contrary, many powerful Hindus took the view that Modi was standing up for their rights and was a role model for their religion.

He certainly acts the part, being celibate and ascetic with little interest in worldly wealth. He also belongs to a lowly caste known as the Other Backwards and comes from a poor working-class family with no political influence - his parents ran a tea stall on the railway.

Unlike many Indians of his generation, Modi's English is poor and he prefers to speak and address meetings using either Gujarati or Hindi. His career in politics has also been linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing organisation that serves as the ideological umbrella for Hindu groups and the BJP.

Far from holding him back these attributes bolstered his growing success and contributed to the BJP victory.

As India changes with thousands of country dwellers moving into the towns to seek a new and better life, Modi's example seems to have captured the spirit of the age.

Far from being a provincial nobody he has emerged as India's next leader and the message is that if he can do it, then so can anyone else.

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