Opinion polls indicate controversial Indian politician Narendra Modi could be India's next prime minister following the 2014 election. FRANCE 24 travels to Gujarat, Modi’s home state, where a bloody past threatens to overshadow the future.
Standing reverentially near a dilapidated tin stall, a local official in Vadnagar, a nondescript township in the western Indian state of Gujarat, patiently explains the significance of the bolted metal structure.
It’s the narrative that has shot local homeboy Narendra Modi into the national and international limelight.
“This is Modi’s tea-stall,” explains Mr. Mehta, a representative of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “His father used to own it. After school, Modi would come and help his father.”
From a humble tea-seller’s son to frontrunner in the 2014 elections, Modi’s rise is mirrored by the growth and development of the state he has led for over a decade. The business parks, the glass-and-chrome buildings, and construction sites in cities and towns across the state are testimony to what Modi’s supporters call “the Gujarat miracle”.
But in another corner of this western Indian state, Shaqeela looks visibly distressed as she gestures toward a dirt-strewn plot of concrete.
“This place reminds me of the family I lost, the innocent children burned alive. My brothers, my mother, they were all set on fire. This is also the place where they threw a two-month-old baby into the fire. I hate coming back here,” says Shaqeela, with a shudder.
Shaqeela is one of the tens of thousands of Muslims who lost loved ones, homes and businesses in a bloody orgy of sectarian violence that gripped Gujarat in 2002 – under Modi’s watch.
Gujarat 2002: When the past won’t fade away
Around 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed and 150,000 people displaced over two months of horrific bloodletting. Human rights groups have documented testimonies of senior police officers stating that Modi “instructed the police to allow the Hindus to vent their anger” and of whistleblowers within the state security establishment facing punishment.
But Modi has never apologised or acknowledged any responsibility for the massacres – a silence that speaks volumes for India’s religious minorities and critics of his hardline Hindu nativist policies.
Gujarat 2002 is not just a trauma embedded in the psyche of the survivors, it remains a stain on Modi’s international track record. Three years after the massacres, the US slapped a visa ban on Modi based on “significant evidence linking him to the violence and the terrible events that took place in Gujarat”.
That ban is still in place – although a recent US Congressional report suggested that if Modi were to become India’s next prime minister, that ban could be lifted. In February, then US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell held talks with Modi, marking an end to a decade-long boycott of the Hindu nationalist politician.
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Examining ‘the Gujarat miracle’
On the campaign trail, Modi has attempted to sweep aside the 2002 massacre by touting his economic track record as chief minister of Gujarat.
The state's economic growth averaged 10.3 percent in the decade after Modi took power compared with about 8 percent for India overall. The Modi campaign machine has efficiently reeled out the economic miracle figures: Gujarat has added 3,600 kilometers of new roads and electricity was expanded to 90 percent of households by 2011 from 80 percent. That's far above the Indian average of two-thirds of homes with electricity, according to the 2011 census.
But critics have noted that Gujarat was always a more industrialised state with a higher growth rate than impoverished Indian states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
What’s more, critics note, Gujarat’s growth has not translated into improved socio-economic indicators for the state’s 60 million people. Gujarat ranked 11th out of 23 states in India’s 2011 human development index, with a 44% child malnutrition rate which is similar to states’ with much lower average incomes.
While Modi’s track record as chief minister of Gujarat has won him vast support among India’s business community, analysts say it’s not easy to duplicate state economic successes at the central level since most individual projects require state and not central government clearance.
But among Modi’s diehard supporters, cautionary tales by economists and analysts hold little sway.
“Yes, yes, 100% I will vote for him,” said a supporter at a campaign rally holding a poster of Modi. “We know that he’s the best person and he can run this country very well. Nobody else can.”
Date created : 2014-04-09