17 Sep Narendra Modi’s birthday Today: 66 Eventful Years Turning Adversity into Opportunity…
Despite having to fight criticism on issues of minority rights and anti-secularism, Narendra Modi continues to direct his efforts towards building the image of an economically progressing India.
It was a historic year for India when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the parliamentary polls with a clear majority in 2014. The only phrase that could be heard echoing from every corner of the country was “ab ki baar Modi sarkar”. The 2014 elections did not just mark the victory of the BJP, it was the moment that made Narendra Modi a national hero. Now he is a statesman of international repute and visibility.
Born in 1950 to a family of the low Ghanchi caste in Vadnagar, Gujarat, Modi was the third among four children in his family. His rise from the status of a tea seller’s son to that of Prime Minister has been phenomenal. Modi’s father ran a tea shop at the Vadnagar railway station, where he would help sell tea during the mornings and attend school in the evenings.
Modi’s first interaction with politics happened at the age of six when he came into contact with a Congressman by the name of Rasikbhai Dave. Mid 1950s was the time when Gujarat was agitating for separation from the Bombay state. Modi acquired pro-Gujarat badges from Dave and distributed them among his school friends, his way of contributing towards making his own state.
In 1958, at the age of eight, Modi joined the youth group of the RSS shakha in Vadnagar. At that moment though, he hardly had any insight of the organisation’s ideologies. It was more of a youth club for him to attend after school. However, he did appreciate the citing of various Gods and Goddesses in the activities of the shakha. In a way, the RSS youth club provided him with an outlet to do something exceptional.
Among the Ghanchis, there exists a tradition of betrothing boys and girls at the age of three. Going by his family’s custom, Modi too was engaged to Jashodaben. Modi was 17 by the time he came to realise the gravity of this arrangement. He decided to leave home in protest against the marriage that had not taken into account his willingness.
Modi left home in 1967. There is very little information about his travels from then on. It is known that he wandered about in Calcutta, Siliguri, Guwahati, Bihar, Uttarakhand and finally at the monastery set up by Swami Vivekananda near Almora. In 1970, he returned home to Vadnagar. However, recurring conflicts with his family regarding his betrothal led him to leave home again. This time he decided to settle in Ahmedabad where he worked at his uncle’s canteen.
It was in Ahmedabad that Modi regained his links with the RSS. He worked at the organisation’s headquarters. Initially, he was given smaller responsibilities like making tea and breakfast, but he soon acquired important duties and by the early 1980s he started acquiring leadership roles. When in Ahmedabad, he also completed a distance education degree in Political Science from Delhi University.
Modi’s political ambitions got just the right boost in 1987 when he was appointed the person in-charge within the RSS to oversee the BJP. Under his association, the BJP gained political centrestage, giving tough competition to the Congress. When the BJP won the Gujarat Assembly elections in 1995, the guidelines laid out by Modi in the campaign were considered instrumental for the victory. In 1998, he had achieved enough accolades within the BJP and was appointed as its General Secretary.
In 2001, when the Bhuj earthquake struck Gujarat, the state was under the leadership of Keshubhai Patel of the BJP. The mismanagement in the aftermath of the earthquake resulted in widespread criticism of Patel. Soon, Modi replaced Patel as Chief Minister of Gujarat. However, after he took over as CM, Gujarat was rocked by the 2002 Godhra riots that claimed the lives of thousands and led to a carnage the scale of which still remains to be fully evaluated. Many alleged that a lack of sufficient state action increased the impact of the violence. While Modi has persistently maintained his lack of knowledge of the events until much later, his involvement in the riots has also remained unproven.
Under widespread demand for the Chief Minister to step down post the Godhra riots, Modi submitted his resignation. However, in the following elections, he managed to win back his post and was sworn in for his second term. Economic progress was Modi’s foremost agenda in the second and third terms.
During the period, he invested all his efforts into projecting the state as an ideal destination for business investments and to uphold the image of Gujarat as an ideal model for economic growth. Even though, some have raised doubts regarding the validity of the state’s economic success, it was the ‘Gujarat model’ that formed the basis of Modi’s Prime Ministerial candidature in 2014.
The general elections of 2014 was groundbreaking for the history of independent India. For the very first time, a party other than the Congress won a clear majority in Parliament. For the country’s political scenario, it was BJP’s moment of glory, but for any ordinary Indian citizen it was perhaps ‘Modi’s moment alone’. While campaigning for the general elections, the BJP upheld the image of Modi as the party’s face. The personality driven, presidential style, election campaign was unique to Indian politics.
Modi was sworn in as the country’s Prime Minister on May 26, 2014. Since then, the two prime areas of focus for him has been economic reform and international diplomacy. Through strategic planning he has been able to open the country’s doors to some crucial international economic ties. Despite having to fight criticism on issues of minority rights and anti-secularism, he continues to direct his efforts towards building the image of an economically progressing India.
In the words of Pratap Bhanu Mehta, “He is a politician who embodies the quintessence of politics: converting adversity into opportunity. That single characteristic, more than any other, sums up his appeal.”
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