Narendra Modi

Narendra Damodardas Modi ( born 17 September 1950) is an Indian politician serving as the 14th and current Prime Minister of India since 2014. He was the Chief Minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014 and is the Member of Parliament for Varanasi. Modi is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist volunteer organisation. He is the first prime minister outside of the Indian National Congress to win two consecutive terms with a full majority and the second to complete more than five years in office after Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Born to a Gujarati family in Vadnagar, Modi helped his father sell tea as a child and has said he later ran his own stall. He was introduced to the RSS at the age of eight, beginning a long association with the organisation. Modi left home after finishing high-school in part due to child marriage to Jashodaben Chimanlal Modi, which he abandoned and publicly acknowledged only many decades later. Modi travelled around India for two years and visited a number of religious centres before returning to Gujarat. In 1971 he became a full-time worker for the RSS. During the state of emergency imposed across the country in 1975, Modi was forced to go into hiding. The RSS assigned him to the BJP in 1985 and he held several positions within the party hierarchy until 2001, rising to the rank of general secretary.

Modi was appointed Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001 due to Keshubhai Patel‘s failing health and poor public image following the earthquake in Bhuj. Modi was elected to the legislative assembly soon after. His administration has been considered complicit in the 2002 Gujarat riots, or otherwise criticised for its handling of it. A Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team found no evidence to initiate prosecution proceedings against Modi personally. His policies as chief minister, credited with encouraging economic growth, have received praise. His administration has been criticised for failing to significantly improve health, poverty and education indices in the state.

Modi led the BJP in the 2014 general election which gave the party a majority in the Indian lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, the first time for any single party since 1984. Modi’s administration has tried to raise foreign direct investment in the Indian economy and reduced spending on healthcare and social welfare programmes. Modi has attempted to improve efficiency in the bureaucracy; he has centralised power by abolishing the Planning Commission. He began a high-profile sanitation campaign, initiated a controversial demonetisation of high-denomination banknotes and weakened or abolished environmental and labour laws.

Following his party’s victory in the 2019 general election, his administration revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. His administration also introduced the Citizenship Amendment Act, which resulted in widespread protests across the country. Described as engineering a political realignment towards right-wing politics, Modi remains a figure of controversy domestically and internationally over his Hindu nationalist beliefs and his alleged role during the 2002 Gujarat riots, cited as evidence of an exclusionary social agenda. Under Modi’s tenure, India has experienced democratic backsliding.

 

Early life and education

Narendra Modi was born on 17 September 1950 to a Gujarati Hindu family of grocers in VadnagarMehsana districtBombay State (present-day Gujarat). He was the third of six children born to Damodardas Mulchand Modi (c. 1915–1989) and Hiraben Modi (born c. 1920). Modi’s family belonged to the ModhGhanchiTeli (oil-presser) community, which is categorised as an Other Backward Class by the Indian government. He was falsely accused by Mayawati that he added his caste to the Other Backward Class (OBC) list as a political tool.

As a child, Modi helped his father sell tea at the Vadnagar railway station, and said that he later ran a tea stall with his brother near a bus terminus. Modi completed his higher secondary education in Vadnagar in 1967, where a teacher described him as an average student and a keen debater, with interest in theatre. Modi had an early gift for rhetoric in debates, and his teachers and students noted this.  Modi preferred playing larger-than-life characters in theatrical productions, which has influenced his political image.

When eight years old, Modi discovered the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and began attending its local shakhas (training sessions). There, Modi met Lakshmanrao Inamdar, popularly known as Vakil Saheb, who inducted him as a balswayamsevak (junior cadet) in the RSS and became his political mentor. While Modi was training with the RSS, he also met Vasant Gajendragadkar and Nathalal Jaghda, Bharatiya Jana Sangh leaders who were founding members of the BJP’s Gujarat unit in 1980.

Also in Narendra Modi’s childhood, in a custom traditional to his caste, his family arranged a betrothal to a girl, Jashodaben Chimanlal Modi, leading to their marriage when they were teenagers. Sometime thereafter, he abandoned the further marital obligations implicit in the custom, and left home, the couple going on to lead separate lives, neither marrying again, and the marriage itself remaining unmentioned in Modi’s public pronouncements for many decades. In April 2014, shortly before the national elections that swept him to power, Modi publicly affirmed that he was married and his spouse was Jashodaben; the couple has remained married, but estranged.

Modi spent the ensuing two years travelling across Northern and North-eastern India, though few details of where he went have emerged. In interviews, Modi has described visiting Hindu ashrams founded by Swami Vivekananda: the Belur Math near Kolkata, followed by the Advaita Ashrama in Almora and the Ramakrishna Mission in Rajkot. Modi remained only a short time at each, since he lacked the required college education. Vivekananda has been described as a large influence in Modi’s life.

In the early summer of 1968, Modi reached the Belur Math but was turned away, after which Modi wandered through Calcutta, West Bengal and Assam, stopping in Siliguri and Guwahati. Modi then went to the Ramakrishna Ashram in Almora, where he was again rejected, before travelling back to Gujarat via Delhi and Rajasthan in 1968–69. Sometime in late 1969 or early 1970, Modi returned to Vadnagar for a brief visit before leaving again for Ahmedabad. There, Modi lived with his uncle, working in the latter’s canteen at the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation.

In Ahmedabad, Modi renewed his acquaintance with Inamdar, who was based at the Hedgewar Bhavan (RSS headquarters) in the city. After the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, he stopped working for his uncle and became a full-time pracharak (campaigner) for the RSS, working under Inamdar. Shortly before the war, Modi took part in a non-violent protest against the Indian government in New Delhi, for which he was arrested; this has been cited as a reason for Inamdar electing to mentor him. Many years later Modi would co-author a biography of Inamdar, published in 2001.

In 1978 Modi received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from School of Open Learning at University of Delhi, graduating with a third class. Five years later, in 1983, he received a Master of Arts degree in political science from Gujarat University, graduating with a first class as an external distance learning student.

 

Personal life and image

 

Personal life

In accordance with Ghanchi tradition, Modi’s marriage was arranged by his parents when he was a child. He was engaged at age 13 to Jashodaben Modi, marrying her when he was 18. They spent little time together and grew apart when Modi began two years of travel, including visits to Hindu ashrams. Reportedly, their marriage was never consummated, and he kept it a secret because otherwise he could not have become a ‘pracharak’ in the puritan Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.  Modi kept his marriage secret for most of his career. He acknowledged his wife for the first time when he filed his nomination for the 2014 general elections. Modi maintains a close relationship with his mother, Hiraben.

vegetarian and teetotaler, Modi has a frugal lifestyle and is a workaholic and introvert. Modi’s 31 August 2012 post on Google Hangouts made him the first Indian politician to interact with citizens on a live chat. Modi has also been called a fashion-icon for his signature crisply ironed, half-sleeved kurta, as well as for a suit with his name embroidered repeatedly in the pinstripes that he wore during a state visit by US President Barack Obama, which drew public and media attention and criticism. Modi’s personality has been variously described by scholars and biographers as energetic, arrogant, and charismatic.

He had published a Gujarati book titled Jyotipunj in 2008, containing profiles of various RSS leaders. The longest was of M. S. Golwalkar, under whose leadership the RSS expanded and whom Modi refers to as Pujniya Shri Guruji (“Guru worthy of worship”). According to The Economic Times, his intention was to explain the workings of the RSS to his readers and to reassure RSS members that he remained ideologically aligned with them. Modi authored eight other books, mostly containing short stories for children.

The nomination of Modi for the prime ministership drew attention to his reputation as “one of contemporary India’s most controversial and divisive politicians.” During the 2014 election campaign the BJP projected an image of Modi as a strong, masculine leader, who would be able to take difficult decisions. Campaigns in which he has participated have focused on Modi as an individual, in a manner unusual for the BJP and RSS. Modi has relied upon his reputation as a politician able to bring about economic growth and “development”. Nonetheless, his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots continues to attract criticism and controversy. Modi’s hardline Hindutva philosophy and the policies adopted by his government continue to draw criticism, and have been seen as evidence of a majoritarian and exclusionary social agenda.

 

Awards and recognition

Modi was named the Best Chief Minister in a 2007 nationwide survey by India Today. In March 2012 and June 2014, he appeared on the cover of the Asian edition of Time Magazine, one of the few Indian politicians to have done so. He was awarded Indian of the Year by CNN-IBN news network in 2014. In June 2015, Modi was featured on the cover of Time Magazine. In 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2020, he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. He was also declared winner of the Time magazine reader’s poll for Person of the Year in 2014 and 2016. Forbes Magazine ranked him the 15th Most Powerful Person in the World in 2014 and the 9th Most Powerful Person in the World in 2015, 2016 and 2018. In 2015, Modi was ranked the 13th Most Influential Person in the World by Bloomberg Markets Magazine. Modi was ranked fifth on Fortune Magazine‘s first annual list of the “World’s Greatest Leaders” in 2015. In 2017, Gallup International Association (GIA) conducted a poll and ranked Modi as third top leader of the world. In 2016, a wax statue of Modi was unveiled at Madame Tussaud Wax Museum in London.

In 2015 he was named one of Time‘s “30 Most Influential People on the Internet” as the second-most-followed politician on Twitter and Facebook. In 2018 he was the third most followed world leader on Twitter, and the most followed world leader on Facebook and Instagram. In October 2018, Modi received UN’s highest environmental award, the ‘Champions of the Earth‘, for policy leadership by “pioneering work in championing” the International Solar Alliance and “new areas of levels of cooperation on environmental action”.He was conferred the 2018 Seoul Peace Prize in recognition of his dedication to improving international co-operation, raising global economic growth, accelerating the Human Development of the people of India by fostering economic growth and furthering the development of democracy through anti-corruption and social integration efforts. He is the first Indian to win the award. In January 2019, PM Narendra Modi, a biographic film starring Vivek Oberoi as Modi, was announced.

Following his second swearing-in ceremony as Prime Minister of India, a picture of Modi was displayed on the facade of the ADNOC building in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Premiered on 12 August 2019, Modi appeared in a special episode of Discovery Channel‘s show Man vs Wild with the host Bear Grylls, becoming the second world leader after Barack Obama to appear in the adventure/survival show. In the show he trekked the jungles and talked about nature and wildlife conservation with Grylls. The episode was shot in Jim Corbett National ParkUttarakhand and was broadcast in 180 countries along India. The Texas India Forum hosted a community event in honour of Modi on 22 September 2019 at the NRG Stadium in HoustonTexas. The event was attended by over 50,000 people and several American politicians including President Donald Trump, making it the largest gathering for an invited foreign leader visiting the United States other than the Pope. At the same event, Modi was presented with the Key to the City of Houston by Mayor Sylvester Turner.  He was awarded the Global Goalkeeper Award Award on 24 September 2019 in New York City by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in recognition for the Swachh Bharat Mission and “the progress India has made in providing safe sanitation under his leadership”.

In 2020, Modi was among eight world leaders to have received the parodical Ig Nobel Prize in Medical Education “for using the COVID-19 viral pandemic to teach the world that politicians can have a more immediate effect on life and death than scientists and doctors can”. On 21 December 2020, President of the United States Donald Trump awarded Modi with the Legion of Merit for elevating the India–United States relations. The Legion of Merit was awarded to Modi along with Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison and former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, the “original architects” of the QUAD.

State honours

Decoration Country Date Note
Order of Abdulaziz Al Saud  Saudi Arabia 3 April 2016 Member Special Class, the highest honour of Saudi Arabia awarded to non-Muslim dignitaries
State Order of Ghazi Amir Amanullah Khan  Afghanistan 4 June 2016 The highest civilian honour of Afghanistan
Grand Collar of the State of Palestine  Palestine 10 February 2018 The highest civilian honour of Palestine
Order of Zayed  United Arab Emirates 4 April 2019 The highest civilian honour of the United Arab Emirates
Order of St. Andrew  Russia 12 April 2019 The highest civilian honour of Russia
Order of the Distinguished Rule of Izzuddin  Maldives 8 June 2019 The highest honour of the Maldives awarded to foreign dignitaries
King Hamad Order of the Renaissance  Bahrain 24 August 2019 Member First Class, the third highest civilian honour of Bahrain
Legion of Merit  United States 21 December 2020 Chief Commander, the highest degree of the Legion of Merit