Indian chief minister may be damaging for country

Credit: Greg Hanneman/Senior Staffwriter Credit: Greg Hanneman/Senior Staffwriter
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The Bharatiya Janata Party announced last week that Narendra Modi would be its candidate for prime minister of India in the upcoming 2014 elections, according to The New York Times. Modi is the current chief minister of Gujarat, a western state of India, and one of the most controversial politicians in India today. Modi has supervised the improvement of Gujarat’s economy in the last decade, and wants to encourage Hindus to vote as a religious bloc, rather than be divided by caste. Caste division in India is analogous to racism in the United States, so subverting these divides would be a great step forward for India. However, Modi is also a Hindu radical who has been accused of encouraging the anti-Muslim riots that swept Gujarat in 2002. Because Muslims constitute roughly 13 percent of India’s population, having a prime minister with such virulent anti-Muslim sentiments will seriously damage the unity of India.

Back in 2002, anti-Muslim riots broke out barely a year into Modi’s ministership of Gujarat, in response to the deaths of 60 Hindus in a train fire, according to BBC News. Over a thousand people — 800 Muslims and 250 Hindus — died in the chaos. Citizens have gone so far as to accuse Modi not only of negligence, but of purposefully allowing the riots to continue. He was never charged, but several of his associates were convicted of inciting a riot.

These events took place, for the most part, over a decade ago, but many Indian Muslims still hate Modi with passion. This hatred intensified as more riots broke out in Uttar Pradesh last week after legislators from Modi’s party released a falsified video of Hindus being lynched by a Muslim mob, according to The New York Times. During the riots, 44 people died, and 42,000 people were displaced from their homes.

Despite the darker aspects of Modi’s political history, he has had some undeniable successes. One of his most visible victories is the economic strength of Gujarat today. Gujarat, which accounts for 5 percent of India’s population, produces 22 percent of its exports and 16 percent of its industrial products, according to The New York Times. According to the BBC, output from farms in Gujarat is nearly seven times the average in all of India, and its growth rate has remained in double digits for the past decade. While economic prosperity is a complex and multi-layered phenomenon, Gujarat’s fortune looks good for Modi’s campaign, especially when the Indian economy is looking shaky, according to The New York Times. Furthermore, Modi’s constituency resides in Maninagar, which is one of the most well-run and orderly neighborhoods in India. It has round-the-clock energy, functional streets, and a working sewage system. Maninagar is a wonderful place to live — except for the few Muslim communities within the town. These successes do not outweigh Modi’s history, but they do give him the appearance of a leader who can fix India’s ills.

Modi’s economic policy is not the only enticing aspect of his potential leadership. The minister wants to eliminate political barriers between castes as much as possible, creating a single Hindu voting bloc. One of the ways he plans on doing this is by focusing on young Hindu voters. In fact, he recently took to Twitter to encourage voters between ages 18 and 24 to register to vote, according to The Economic Times. For young people, Modi is a dynamic, impassioned leader who has the potential to both improve the economy and minimize caste divisions. Modi is even more appealing when compared to aging leaders of other parties, or to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is 80 years old.

For a young Indian person, Modi’s message is incredibly appealing. He offers economic and political stability on a platter, and both of these things would make life easier in India. However, Modi is also dangerous because his message of unity is subtly tied to the discrimination of Muslim Indians. India, like America, is drifting toward being more politically polarized every day. While Hindus represent 80 percent of the Indian electorate, they have never bonded to form a political bloc because of caste divisions. If Modi can mobilize Hindus to act as a political unit, which he has the potential to do — especially with the lure of dynamic change and improved economic policy — they could very easily control Indian politics.

This cooperation would not be a bad thing. In fact, having India move past caste divisions would be a great cultural and political boon for the nation. If this cooperation is linked to anti-Muslim sentiment, however, it would eventually cause division among all Indians.