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Modi's task: Meeting nation's soaring expectations

By Sanjeev Miglani in Gandhinagar, India | China Daily | Updated: 2014-05-17 07:32

About a year ago, Narendra Modi sat down with some of India's best and brightest to mount a "shock and awe" election campaign that one strategist likened to the US' unilateral military operation against Saddam Hussein's forces in the Gulf.

From an unmarked office in Gandhinagar, capital of Modi's home state of Gujarat, the young men and women, some on sabbatical from firms like JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank, worked on turning a fragmented parliamentary election involving 543 seats into a presidential-style referendum on candidate Modi.

In so doing, Modi cut loose from the traditional Delhi-based structure of his Bharatiya Janata Party and its apparatchiks and adopted the language of a youthful country eager for change, using everything from holograms to WhatsApp.

The modern approach worked: Just an hour into the vote counting on Friday, it was clear the 63-year-old Modi was headed for a stunning victory, with the strongest mandate an Indian government has enjoyed for 30 years.

By midday, the BJP and its allies led the count in 329 parliamentary seats, far ahead of the 272-seat majority needed to rule.

So great appears the desire for change, especially among India's 300 million-strong middle class, and so firmly has Modi stayed on message that a dark chapter of violence against Muslims on his watch seems to have mattered less and less to many voters.

Modi, a Hindu nationalist, has long faced allegations that he looked the other way when Hindu mobs rampaged against Muslims in Gujarat after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was torched in 2002.

He denied the allegations, and a Supreme Court-ordered inquiry absolved him.

Since Modi took control in 2001, Gujarat has led the nation in GDP growth. It accounts for 16 percent of industrial output and 22 percent of exports, despite having just 5 percent of its population.

A government study last month said it had the best land acquisition policies out of India's 29 states in terms of ease of doing business.

Land, by far, is the single biggest hurdle in the country, holding up 90 percent of infrastructure projects.

Gujarat's highways are India's fastest, a far cry from the potholed roads in the northern belt, and its ports are among the busiest.

But replicating that success nationally presents huge challenges in a country with a bureaucracy more wedded to state controls than reform and a growing gap between rich and poor among its 1.2 billion people.

India must create 10 million jobs a year to absorb youth into the workforce.

And unlike China, India is not centralized. Modi will have a fight on his hands to gain full cooperation from many state governments.

Some say the pace of development in Gujarat has caused environmental damage and threatened small communities, and that crony capitalism has flourished.

Critics also say it lags behind other states in things such as mortality rates.

But the criticisms have failed to stick.

"Modi has led from the front. None of this would have been possible but for him," said Rajnath Singh, president of the BJP and a close associate.


(China Daily 05/17/2014 page7)

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