India was founded by champions of tolerance and pluralism. Its likely next leader is neither of those

Mr Modi has much to recommend him. But there is more to consider than economics


The general elections that begin in India early next month are a turning point for the world’s most populous democracy. The electorate appears to be faced with a choice between stability and growth; but its response will shape more than just the country’s economic future.

The Congress Party that has ruled for the past decade is looking increasingly exhausted. The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, may be the architect of economic reforms that set India on a path to modernity, helping to lift almost a billion people out of poverty in the process. But two two terms of office, torpid GDP growth and a failure to tackle the country’s endemic corruption have taken the lustre off the 81-year-old’s unquestionably stellar achievements.

Congress’s comprehensive trouncing in the state elections that took place last December, not least the triumph of the Aam Aadmi (“common man”) anti-graft party in Delhi, made the public’s thinning patience abundantly clear. Nor does Mr Singh’s successor as Congress candidate offer much inspiration. As the scion of India’s foremost political dynasty, Rahul Gandhi – son, grandson and great-grandson of former prime ministers – would always have had to work hard to be a new broom. As it is, he shows neither the enthusiasm nor the ability to get to grips with India’s multiple problems.

Enter the challenger, Narendra Modi, chief minister of the state of Gujarat and prime ministerial candidate of the centre-right Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, a self-made political colossus. Mr Modi has much to recommend him. Thanks to his efforts to slash red tape and pour investment into infrastructure, Gujurat has near tripled its economic output.

The country as a whole badly needs a similar boost. India’s once-soaring growth rate is languishing below 5 per cent – far from sufficient to create the 13 million jobs needed to absorb new entrants into the workforce each year. Taken together with high inflation, a weak currency and falling foreign investment, the outlook is a far cry from the roaring optimism that once characterised the “i” in Brics.

But there is more to consider than economics. Mr Modi’s famously high-handed style would be a concern in any event, particularly given the prickly foreign relationships over which India’s prime minister must preside. But even that is as nothing compared with the long shadow of the anti-Muslim violence that rocked Gujurat in 2002, leaving 1,000 dead. Mr Modi has always denied links with the Hindu extremists behind the bloodshed and he has been cleared of wrong-doing in the courts. But few are convinced that the chief minister – and a Hindu nationalist chief minister, at that – can be entirely free from responsibility, even if the sins were of omission rather than commission.

Such insinuations would be toxic in any politician; in someone who would be a national leader, they are deeply disturbing. And Mr Modi’s failure to address them satisfactorily only adds to the concern. When Jawaharlal Nehru founded the modern state of India it was with a recognition of the sub-continent’s glorious pluralism at its heart. Mr Modi has made a career out of the direct opposite. Yes, he has shown himself a deft campaigner, efficient administrator and convincing economic reformer. But he’ll need to be much truer to the idea of India before he gets this newspaper’s vote.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power