NEW DELHI: He is the most controversial figure in modern Indian politics — likened by his many enemies to Adolf Hitler, Slobodan Milosevic and Pol Pot.
Narendra Modi, 52, the chief minister of India’s western state of Gujarat, was catapulted to infamy last year after presiding over India’s worst communal riots for a decade.
The main charge: that his police force merely watched as Hindu mobs in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s historic main city, and in surrounding towns and villages, burned out entire Muslim communities and desecrated mosques. The riots left 100,000 people homeless, severely damaged India’s credentials as a secular democracy, and were described — correctly — as genocide.
They also led to a major diplomatic rift between Britain and India after a report by the British high commission in New Delhi blamed India’s BJP-led coalition government.
Writing in the Guardian, a group of south Asian scholars said Mr Modi should be indicted for his “culpable” role in the killings, and called on the British government to declare him persona non grata. Lawyers for the three dead Britons explored ways of prosecuting him.
The chief minister, however, was unrepentant. The strategy worked. In state elections last December Mr Modi won an astonishing majority — and praise from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India’s elderly BJP prime minister, who had briefly considered sacking his troublesome protege.
Many now believe that Mr Modi’s brand of chauvinist anti- Muslim politics, known in India as Modi-tva, will see the BJP win a historic second term in India’s general elections next year.
But the riots appear to have done permanent damage to Hindu- Muslim relations in India, a country with 140 million Muslims. None of the Hindu rioters who took part in last year’s killings have been brought to justice, largely because Mr Modi’s government has consistently frustrated attempts to prosecute the guilty.
Earlier this summer India’s high court threw out a case against 21 people accused of burning 14 Muslims to death at a bakery in Vadodra. India’s national human rights commission has appealed against the ruling after it emerged that all of the witnesses for the prosecution had been terrorised into silence. Mr Modi is contesting the appeal.
An MA graduate who can speak fluent English but who prefers to declaim in Gujarati or Hindi as he did in London on Sunday night, Mr Modi is technically savvy, and usually answers his own email. He is single, and a vegetarian.
His decision to fly to Britain suggests he is preparing to launch himself on the national Indian stage, with some pundits tipping him as a future Indian prime minister.
If he ever makes it, then India’s tradition of secular democracy, which has been under threat for some time, will have been replaced by something much darker.—Dawn/The Guardian News Service.