Who Is Narendra Modi? By Kanchan Chandra March 30, 2017

JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House, June 2016.

On March 19, a short man in saffron robes and a monk’s shaven head was sworn in as chief minister of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. UP is India’s largest state, with a population larger than that of Russia. It had just held elections for its legislative assembly, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had taken 312 of 403 seats, securing the biggest majority any party had won in the state in four decades. Yogi Adityanath, as the saffron-robed monk is known, was Modi’s hand-picked nominee to lead Uttar Pradesh’s new government. He is the head priest of a monastic order in northeastern India and an aggressive advocate for Hindu nationalism.

The appointment of a religious leader as the chief of a state government is unprecedented in Indian politics. The BJP has often included members of the Hindu clergy in its mobilization campaigns, but it has generally kept religious figures away from executive positions. (An exception is the Hindu nun Uma Bharti, who is now a cabinet minister in Modi’s government and served as chief minister of the state of Madhya Pradesh from 2003 to 2004; unlike Adityanath, Bharti does not head a religious organization.)

Indian newspapers exploded with astonishment when the BJP announced Adityanath’s appointment—not only because of his background but also because of the timing of his selection. The elections in Uttar Pradesh were the first state contest since November, when the Modi government demonetized high-value Indian banknotes in an attempt to curb illicit transactions, and the BJP’s victory seemed to reflect a popular endorsement of Modi’s reforms. Modi himself suggested as much: the election, he said in a speech in Delhi, marked the dawn of a new India, in which citizens would vote to advance development rather than identity-based issues.

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Shaken in the mountains

A man is pulled from the rubble in Kathmandu

SEISMOLOGISTS, politicians and ordinary residents of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, have long feared a big earthquake striking the sprawling city. It lies within a bowl-shaped valley, and as the population has poured off the fields over the years (hurried along by a decade of civil war), Kathmandu has swollen. Shoddy concrete buildings, narrow alleys and few building standards—combined with prevalent corruption among inspectors—meant the city was at risk. Over 5m people  cram in and around Kathmandu.

On April 25th a  big (magnitude 7.9) earthquake hit, striking 80 kilometres (50 miles) to the west of the city. As far away as Delhi, India’s capital, windows rattled and water sloshed in jugs, and the metro service was suspended. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said his country would send rescue teams and assistance. A Nepalese minister, Minendra Rijal, spoke of enormous damage and called for help from international agencies. By the evening the police had confirmed over 1,000 deaths. The last quake of such size to hit the region, in Sichuan in south-west China in 2008, killed 90,000.

A resident in Kathmandu, speaking moments after the first shock, spoke of watching buildings collapse; older buildings proved the most vulnerable. A symbol of the city, the Dharahara tower, an eight-storey step tower  constructed in 1832, was toppled. In Patan Square, a historic site in the centre of the city, monuments that have long drawn pilgrims and tourists were reduced to rubble. The Kathmandu valley is on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites, with scores of brick and timber palaces and Buddhist temples dating back to the 15th century. A 72-year-old man said the earthquake was the strongest he had ever felt: “It was  what everyone was afraid of.” It is unclear how many people are trapped beneath the rubble.

Earthquakes are common in or near the Himalayas, where the Indian tectonic plate pushes five centimetres north a year, coming up against the Eurasian plate. In Nepal the last quake of similar magnitude was in 1934. Seventy or 80 years appears typical between big earthquakes. The quake’s hypocentre was relatively shallow, about 11km below the surface, exacerbating the ground-shaking, says David Rothery, a professor of geosciences at Britain’s Open University. Without the bedrock in the mountains, the impact of the earthquake in the silt plains of southern Nepal and northern India may have been even worse, he says.

The quake triggered an avalanche on Everest, burying part of a base camp used by climbers and killing at least eight people. Given the remoteness of many settlements in Nepal, it is likely that reports of death and destruction will take days to be heard.

Anticipating big earthquakes, foreign aid donors have provided funds and expertise in helping to prepare Kathmandu, for instance, by strengthening schools and hospitals. But Nepal is one of the poorest countries in Asia and suffers from prolonged political dysfunction. No sustained efforts have been made to protect people against earthquakes, including earthquake education and preparedness.

There is scope for regional help, and Mr Modi, whose country is closely allied with Nepal, looks inclined to offer  leadership. Nepal recently hosted a summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation, at which national leaders pledged that barriers between countries should be reduced and greater help  given across borders. This earthquake is an early test of whether such words will be met with action.

Obama visits an India with growing religious intolerance

Since PM Narendra Modi was elected, churches attacked, Christians and Muslims paid to convert to Hinduism

Burnt bibles lie on a bench inside St. Sebastian’s Church after a fire destroyed the church in New Delhi, Dec. 2, 2014. While the cause of the fire is not known, the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese said Tuesday that “mischief” was suspected. Tsering Topgyal / AP

Burnt bibles lie on a bench inside St. Sebastian’s Church after a fire destroyed the church in New Delhi, Dec. 2, 2014. While the cause of the fire is not known, the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese said Tuesday that “mischief” was suspected. 
Tsering Topgyal / AP

In the middle of the night on Jan. 14, a man walked into a church in India’s capital city of New Delhi. He folded his hands together, bowed in respect to a statue of the Virgin Mary and then proceeded to vandalize the church. The Delhi police were quick to point out that he and two other assailants, who were caught on a closed-circuit camera and have since been arrested, seemed to be inebriated and did not act out of religious hatred. But some from India’s Christian community, which makes up roughly 2.3 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion population, are not convinced. In the past six weeks, four churches have been similarly attacked in Delhi. In the southern city of Hyderabad, Christmas carolers were beaten up, reportedly by a right-wing Hindu group. These incidents, India’s National Human Rights Commission noted last week, “may violate the fundamental right to freedom of religion and cause immense harm to the social fabric.”

Many fear the situation will get worse. For the past few months, Hindu nationalists have been staging elaborate mass-conversion ceremonies called “ghar vapsi,” or “homecoming,” intended to “reconvert” Christians to Hinduism, offering roughly 3,200 rupees (about $52) if they make the switch. (The going rate for a Muslim to convert to Hinduism is about 8,000.)

As a result, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who was elected by a landslide last May on a platform of economic reform, is facing increased scrutiny for his refusal to condemn the rising religious intolerance over the past months, something that worries many Christian leaders. A Hindu nationalist and longtime leader of the state of Gujarat, he was accused of looking the other way during the 2002 riots, which left about 1,000 people dead, mostly Muslims. “The attacks and the whole silence of the authorities around it have left the community with a feeling of insecurity,” Dominic Emmanuel, a spokesman for the Delhi archdiocese, told an Indian daily.

Modi and Obama
An Indian kitemaker poses with kites adorned with images of US President Barack Obama (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) in Amritsar, India on Jan. 21, 2015.
Narinder Nanu / AFP / Getty Images

Under increased scrutiny, however, Modi may be under pressure to speak up. Today, he welcomes President Barack Obama, who is scheduled to attend India’s Republic Day festivities on Jan. 26, which celebrate the date India’s constitution was adopted in 1950. Obama will be the first U.S. president to attend the function. The mass conversions and attacks have not gone unnoticed among government officials in Washington, D.C., and some analysts expect Obama to voice his concern privately to Modi.

Milan Vaishnav, a South Asia associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in Washington, D.C., says that U.S. officials worry that religious issues will distract from the big-picture goals of Obama’s visit: strengthening economic and defense ties, consummating the civil-nuclear deal and reaching an agreement on climate and energy. But, he says, “This could change if the intensity of such sentiments increase or if Modi, or his inner circle, are perceived to be instigators.”

As the Gujarat chief minister from 2001 to 2014, Modi often delivered inflammatory speeches filled with Hindu-nationalist rhetoric. But as he campaigned for prime minister, he softened his rhetoric, saying that improving India’s economy would be his primary objective. Soon the “achhe din,” or good days, would reach all Indians regardless of caste, Modi promised then. Even some of his opponents in the Indian National Congress Party, which has ruled the country for most of its history, complimented Modi on his emphasis on economic reform.

In India, if the Hindu society is in danger, then the country is also in danger [since] the country is a Hindu country.

Mohan Bhagwat

Chief of the RSS

The problem is that some of Modi’s supporters have a different definition of what those good days mean, and his election has emboldened Hindu nationalists in their efforts to turn India — where religious minorities make up roughly 20 percent of the population — into a Hindu nation. Since the election last May, Hindu-Muslim violence has erupted in several states, including a deadly clash earlier this month during the annual kite-flying festival in Gujarat. In the southern state of Kerala, where Hindu nationalists had previously not gained much traction, dozens of Christians were reconverted to Hinduism after they were given financial incentives. (They are called reconversions by the organizers because they allege that all Indians were originally Hindu and were forcefully converted to Islam or Christianity.) Some Hindu nationalist leaders have even suggested that Hindus should have 10 children in order to remain the religious majority.

Modi, who joined the Hindu nationalist group the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, as a young man, retains deep ties to the organization. He has not made any public remarks about any specific incidents. But according to reports in the Indian media, he met with the top leadership of several Hindu-nationalist groups in December. During the meeting, he vowed to resign from the prime minister’s post if these groups did not stop making their controversial remarks.

So far this tactic has not worked. Two weeks after that meeting, the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said at a rally in Gujarat, “In India, if the Hindu society is in danger, then the country is also in danger [since] the country is a Hindu country.” And in a move that is likely to embarrass Modi, some Hindu nationalists have vowed to create a memorial for Nathuram Godse, the RSS member who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi on Jan. 30, 1948.

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ICYMI: India-Pakistan Head for Nuke War – Bruce Riedel 10.19.14

A crisis is brewing between nuclear armed India and Pakistan that could be their most dangerous ever.

India and Pakistan have fought four wars since 1947 and had several crises that went to the brink of war. Both tested nuclear weapons in 1998. Now tensions are escalating between the two again.It began in May, when a heavily armed squad of Pakistani terrorists from Lashkar e Tayyiba (Army of the Pure) attacked India’s consulate in Herat, in western Afghanistan. They planned to massacre Indian diplomats on the eve of the inauguration of India’s new Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi. The consulate’s security forces killed the LeT terrorists first, preventing a crisis.

Since LeT is a proxy of Pakistan’s military intelligence service known as the ISI, Indian intelligence officials assume the Herat attack was coordinated with higher-ups in Pakistan.  They assume another LeT attack is only a matter of time.  They are probably right on both counts.

This summer, clashes between Indian and Pakistani troops have escalated along the ceasefire line in Kashmir.  Called “the Line of Control,” the Kashmiri front line has witnessed the worst exchanges of artillery and small arms fire in a decade this year, displacing hundreds of civilians on both sides.  Over 20 have died in the crossfire already this month. Modi has ordered his army commanders to strike back hard at the Line of Control to demonstrate Indian resolve.

Although Modi made a big gesture in May when he invited his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to his inauguration, since then Modi has cancelled routine diplomatic talks with Pakistan on Kashmir and signaled a tough line toward terrorism.  He also appointed a very experienced intelligence chief, Ajit Doval as his National Security Adviser.  Doval is known as a hard liner on terrorism—and on Pakistan.

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US, India eyeing trade breakthrough – By Vicki Needham – 09/28/14 06:00 AM EDT

Expectations are running high ahead of the first meeting between President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the leaders look to resolve issues that have chilled relations in recent years.

White House officials say they expect to make significant progress on a broad range of trade, economic and energy issues during high-level meetings next week with top Indian officials.

Senior Obama administration officials said on Friday that the talks mark a “pivotal time in international affairs.”

“We are looking to seize the opportunity presented by the prime minister’s election to reinvigorate this strategic partnership, but also to elevate and extend the depth and the breadth of the work that we’re doing on issues of mutual interest,” a senior administration official said.

Officials have a broad agenda, with talks on teaming up on infrastructure, manufacturing, trade and boosting India’s energy security.

About 100 days since his election victory, Modi arrives in the United States with a significant mandate to make sweeping changes that can jump start the burgeoning Indian economy.

Modi said in a Thursday op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that he is seeking an economic transformation for his country and that the U.S. and India have a “fundamental stake in each other’s success.”

“The complementary strengths of India and the U.S. can be used for inclusive and broad-based global development to transform lives across the world,” he said.

“Because our countries’ values and interests are aligned, though our circumstances are different, we are in a unique position to become a bridge to a more integrated and cooperative world.”

Modi, who was elected in a landslide victory in May, is set to arrive in Washington on Monday after a weekend in New York where he will address the United Nations.

He urged for a “sensitivity to each other’s point of view” and that as friends the two nations can “contribute to more concerted international efforts to meet the pressing global challenges of our times.”

U.S. officials argue they are prepared to play a “strong and supportive role” in reaching those objectives.

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‘Make in India’: Prime minister envisions manufacturing hub to rival China – By Mark Pace – The Washington Times – Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mr. Modi is promising to set up cells to resolve issues within 48 hours and to assemble back-end support to answer specific inquiries within 72 hours. "The government is committed to chart out a new path, wherein business entities are extended red carpet welcome in a spirit of active cooperation," he said in a statement.

Seeking to put some muscle behind his promise to revamp and revitalize his nation’s economy, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will unveil a sweeping “Make in India” campaign Thursday just ahead of his highly anticipated trip to the U.S.

The aim of the campaign will be to turn India, which has lagged behind rival China in the international economic sweepstakes, into a global manufacturing hub and generate major job opportunities across the country, officials said. The campaign will be presented to executives of some 3,000 companies and will be publicized in world capitals, according to a report by New Delhi Television Ltd.

Mr. Modi invited the global business community to “come, make in India,” as he announced the campaign’s slogan during an Independence Day address. He aims for major corporations to set up manufacturing facilities in India while tearing down regulatory and bureaucratic barriers.

SEE ALSO: Pro-trade Indian leader to visit Washington

The Modi government, which took power in May, also is looking to simplify regulatory processes and reduce the burden of compliance for domestic and international investors.

The prime minister is promising to set up cells to resolve issues within 48 hours and assembled back-end support to answer specific inquiries within 72 hours.

The government identified more than two dozen sectors that could become world leaders, including information technology, tourism, health care and automobile manufacturing.

The campaign’s aim is to shift the economy from the services-driven growth model to more labor-intensive manufacturing. India has nearly 10 million people who join the workforce every year, and a shift in focus could help create jobs for those people. India reported a jobless rate of 8.2 percent in mid-2014.

“The government is committed to chart out a new path, wherein business entities are extended red carpet welcome in a spirit of active cooperation. Invest India will act as the first reference point for guiding foreign investors on all aspects of regulatory and policy issues and to assist them in obtaining regulatory clearances,” the government said in a statement ahead of the rollout.

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The Modi era begins – May 18th 2014, 11:38 by A.R. | DELHI

IN THE days since May 16th when Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stormed to victory in India’s general election much commentary has wrestled with the idea of history. Most commentators seem to agree that May 2014 marks an historic moment. One reason is the scale of Mr Modi’s landslide victory, which scooped up 282 seats for the BJP and thus an absolute majority in parliament. That is first time since 1984 that any party has won a majority for itself. It is also the first time ever that a party other than Congress has done so. Conversely, the defeat for Congress is far worse than anything in its long history of dominating Indian politics: it won fewer than a sixth the seats of its rival, getting just 44. In much of north India, the political heartland, Congress was wiped out. Some correctly ask if its eventual recovery (assuming that will happen one day) would require being rid of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has been at its heart for so long.

Yet the size of Mr Modi’s victory, and Congress’s defeat, tells only part of the dramatic story. The immense dissatisfaction with Congress was undeniable. Voters were unhappy with high inflation, slowing growth, weak leadership, corruption and much more. Such voter grumpiness, usually summed up as “anti-incumbency”, is all but inevitable for a party that had been in power for a decade. Yet more has happened here. Take, for example, the utter defeat of the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati, the Dalit leader in Uttar Pradesh. She was not an incumbent and her party managed to collect some 20% of the votes cast in the state. Indeed, after the BJP and Congress, it got the most votes nationally of any party in the election. Yet it failed to win a single constituency. By contrast the BJP not only collected a huge tally of votes but also turned those efficiently into seats. With 31% of the national vote-share, they captured nearly 52% of the seats in parliament.

That suggests an important shift in Indian politics. The BJP did extraordinarily well because it approached the election in a far more professional, strategic and efficient way than its rivals. The methods it employed were modern, and the skill at which Mr Modi and his fellow leaders conducted their campaigns rivalled the sort of performances put in by American presidential contenders (and with similar quantities of money to spend). Rahul Gandhi of Congress, in the end, proved to be a hopeless amateur, poorly advised without even decent media-management skills or the ability to present a strong campaign message. Many regional figures proved similarly out of date in their campaigning. The BJP’s roadshows and rallies, the door-knocking by volunteers, the influence on India’s press and television channels, the ability to set the agenda of discussion, all went to making the election a remarkably one-sided affair. The chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, tendered his resignation on May 17th, after his party was flattened by the BJP in the state. (Assam’s chief minister, from Congress, has also offered to quit.) That was not because of anti-incumbency—voters in Bihar are happy with the work Mr Kumar has been doing—but because the BJP’s campaign was vastly superior.

Mr Modi in his first speeches after his victory has sounded magnanimous and made the right noises about running the country for all, bringing everyone along. He also mentioned, only partly accurately, that the BJP’s success transcended caste politics and religious appeals. If that were entirely true, it would be another reason to call this election result historic. In fact the BJP did make some use of caste and religion, as when Mr Modi played up his “other backward classes” background while campaigning in Uttar Pradesh, or when he criticized Bangladeshi (read: Muslim) infiltrators in Assam and West Bengal. It is troubling, too, that the new parliament will have the fewest Muslim members of any since 1952, while the ruling BJP has not a single Muslim MP among its cohort of 282; Muslims are reckoned to comprise at least 14% of the Indian population.

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India’s election: Can anyone stop Narendra Modi? – Apr 5th 2014

WHO does not marvel at the prospect of India going to the polls? Starting on April 7th, illiterate villagers and destitute slum-dwellers will have an equal say alongside Mumbai’s millionaires in picking their government. Almost 815m citizens are eligible to cast their ballots in nine phases of voting over five weeks—the largest collective democratic act in history.

But who does not also deplore the fecklessness and venality of India’s politicians? The country is teeming with problems, but a decade under a coalition led by the Congress party has left it rudderless. Growth has fallen by half, to about 5%—too low to provide work for the millions of young Indians joining the job market each year. Reforms go undone, roads and electricity remain unavailable, children are left uneducated. Meanwhile politicians and officials are reckoned to have taken bribes worth between $4 billion and $12 billion during Congress’s tenure. The business of politics, Indians conclude, is corruption.

No wonder that the overwhelming favourite to become India’s next prime minister is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi. He could not be more different from Rahul Gandhi, his Congress party rival. The great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first premier, Mr Gandhi would ascend to office as if by divine right. Mr Modi is a former teaseller propelled to the top by sheer ability. Mr Gandhi seems not to know his own mind—even whether he wants power. Mr Modi’s performance as chief minister of Gujarat shows that he is set on economic development and can make it happen. Mr Gandhi’s coalition is tainted by corruption. By comparison Mr Modi is clean.

So there is much to admire. Despite that, this newspaper cannot bring itself to back Mr Modi for India’s highest office.

Modi’s odium

The reason begins with a Hindu rampage against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, in which at least 1,000 people were slaughtered. The orgy of murder and rape in Ahmedabad and the surrounding towns and villages was revenge for the killing of 59 Hindu pilgrims on a train by Muslims.

Mr Modi had helped organise a march on the holy site at Ayodhya in 1990 which, two years later, led to the deaths of 2,000 in Hindu-Muslim clashes. A lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist group in whose cause he has vowed lifelong celibacy, he made speeches early in his career that shamelessly whipped up Hindus against Muslims. In 2002 Mr Modi was chief minister and he was accused of allowing or even abetting the pogrom.

Mr Modi’s defenders, and there are many, especially among the business elite, point to two things. First, repeated investigations—including by the admirably independent Supreme Court—have found nothing to charge their man with. And second, they say, Mr Modi has changed. He has worked tirelessly to attract investment and to boost business for the benefit of Hindus and Muslims alike. Think, they say, of the huge gains to poor Muslims across India of a well-run economy.

On both counts, that is too generous. One reason why the inquiries into the riots were inconclusive is that a great deal of evidence was lost or wilfully destroyed. And if the facts in 2002 are murky, so are Mr Modi’s views now. He could put the pogroms behind him by explaining what happened and apologising. Yet he refuses to answer questions about them. In a rare comment last year he said he regretted Muslims’ suffering as he would that of a puppy run over by a car. Amid the uproar, he said he meant only that Hindus care about all life. Muslims—and chauvinist Hindus—heard a different message. Unlike other BJP leaders, Mr Modi has refused to wear a Muslim skullcap and failed to condemn riots in Uttar Pradesh in 2013 when most of the victims were Muslim.

The lesser of two evils

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A useful campaign – `Mar 1st 2014 | DELHI

Electioneering that focuses on the economy suggests a welcome realisation that growth matters

IS THE ghost of Margaret Thatcher lurking in Indian politics? Rahul Gandhi, a leader of Congress party, which is best known for promoting welfare, has taken to saying that “poverty cannot be fought without growth” and praising markets for creating wealth. Last week Arvind Kejriwal, head of AAP, a left-leaning party of urban, anti-corruption types, told business leaders he now likes capitalism, just not cronyism. He says an end to the “inspector raj and licence raj” would cut graft and free business to create jobs.

That was perhaps mostly posturing. More outspoken is the front-runner to be prime minister, Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In Delhi on February 27th he and Arun Jaitley, a potential finance minister, hosted liberal-leaning economists, business leaders, bankers and investors for a daylong seminar on raising growth. That marked the start of the BJP spelling out its economic policies. Mr Modi (some of whose supporters are pictured above) has long talked up his pro-business record as Gujarat’s chief minister.

Such rhetoric suggests a welcome shift in Indian politics—notable given a general election due by May. For years Congress dominated nationally by ignoring how growth is sustained, but promising handouts, especially to villagers, through make-work schemes, subsidies on food, fuel and fertiliser and cash transfers. That approach now brings shrinking electoral returns, ironically, as rural voters get less poor. After a decade in power, Congress has a rotten reputation at economic management: debts, high inflation and joblessness, combined with dire performances by manufacturers, leave many gloomy.

Voters crave a change. Polls (even if you set aside chronically corrupt Indian ones) point to a BJP victory, perhaps a big one. Few now seem bothered by Mr Modi’s controversial past, presiding over communal riots in Gujarat, in 2002, when over 1,000 people died. A national survey released on February 26th by the Pew Research Center, an American body, suggests voters favour a government run by the BJP over Congress by a startling 63% to 19%. For the first time, the BJP could win more votes (and more seats) than Congress, a powerful national mandate.

Indians are fed up: 70% say they are dissatisfied, says Pew. Alarmingly for Congress, rural voters are as surly as town dwellers, despite successive gushing monsoons and bumper government prices for their rice and wheat. Respondents everywhere (by a ratio of at least two to one) say the BJP would do better than Congress at cutting inflation and corruption, helping the poor and creating jobs.

“I’ve rarely before seen this profound yearning for change”, says Ravi Shankar Prasad, the BJP’s deputy leader in the upper house of parliament, arguing that poor leadership is behind India’s current economic “disaster”, as growth has weakened from 8.5% a decade ago to less than 5%. At rallies Mr Modi sneers that a feeble “economist prime minister”, Manmohan Singh, is to blame. By implication: a strong, decisive leader—himself—would turn everything for the better.

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