8 Things Britons Need To Know About India's 'Rockstar' Modi

12/11/2015 8:34 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives for a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kennya at Government Buildings, Dublin, Ireland, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. Modi arrived in Ireland for high level talks focusing on strengthening economic, trade and investment between the two countries. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

NEW DELHI -- There are few world leaders who can draw a crowd of 60,000 to Wembley Stadium while on a state visit overseas. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of them. And India's "rockstar" prime minister can do this even when the chips are down.

Modi landed in the UK today with a broad smile on his face and a bounce in his step. You wouldn't fathom that he is at his weakest moment domestically since the historic mandate he won in the summer of 2014. His party just lost a major state election that he led from the front.

There has also been widespread revulsion to a climate of intolerance that critics accuse his reign of fostering. A number of artists, writers and filmmakers, including the Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, have returned awards to protest the politics of intolerance. Members of his party and affiliated outfits have mouthed statements targeting Muslims and even the universally liked Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan.

In all, the sheen of the landslide 2014 national election victory has diminished, but he remains the first prime minister in 30 years to enjoy a majority in the lower house of the Indian Parliament. He also has absolute domination over his own party.

Prime Minister David Cameron has made it quite clear that he is hugely pleased to welcome Modi to Britain, and together they will talk trade and cooperation in other areas.

Here are seven things to know about the Indian prime minister, a man once considered anathema by Western countries, who now spends an awful lot of time hobnobbing with the political and commercial leaders from the same countries.

Son of a tea-seller

Modi's personal story--a man born to a tea seller who rose to lead 1.2 billion people--has captured imaginations the world over.

In conversation with Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg during a public townhall, he choked as he recalled the sacrifices his mother made to raise their family.

Modi married at an early age as per the prevailing social custom. He probably didn;t have much of a say in the matter, He left his wife to seek out his destiny. He is often criticised for abandoning his wife. Young Modi traveled for many years before devoting himself to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu right wing organisation.

Controversial Figure

At the turn of the century, Modi emerged as a strongman of Gujarat, a state wracked with Hindu-Muslim tensions.

Shortly after Modi became chief minister, religious violence claimed the lives of over 1000 people, most of them Muslims. While the Indian courts have cleared Modi of any wrongdoing, there are many people who believe that the chief minister allowed Hindus to vent their anger against Muslims.

While human rights activists cried "genocide," the people of Gujarat stood firmly behind him, and for the next ten years Modi fashioned himself into a social media savvy politician, who celebrated innovation and the entrepreneurship, and transformed his state into a hub for business and investment.

For nearly a decade after the Gujarat Riots, the British government sent Modi to the coventry. He was barred from entering the United States.

But then his rapid rise to power at the national level at a time when all major economies want to do business with India forced a rethink on the part of all those countries which had given him the cold shoulder for so many years.

One by one, including the United States and Britain, fell in line to woo Modi.

Rise to Power

Modi propelled himself from a regional leader in Gujarat to the centre stage ahead of the national elections in 2014.

Addressing rallies of hundreds of thousands, he poised himself as the India's saviour, who would save the nation from the plague of corruption, while delivering unprecedented economic reforms, which would allow India to flex its muscle on the world stage.

India does not have a contest for a prime ministerial candidate, but Modi was so popular that people readily admitted to voting for him and not his party. Even children would parrot the jingle - Ab ki baar, Modi sarkar (The Time, The Modi Government) which they heard on the radio and television.

He came to power with a thumping majority in May, 2014.

Owning Social Media

Modi has 16 million followers compared to Cameron's 1.23 million. The only Indian who has slightly larger following that Modi is Bollywood celebrity Shah Rukh Khan at 16.1 million.

The prime minister tweets about his polices like the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India program), about his foreign travels, and he wishes all the other heads of state on their birthday.

But of late, Modi has been criticised for tweeting inconsequential matters while staying mum on controversies, scandals and important issues of the day.

Madison Square Garden Moment

A deafening roar of applause and cheering rose up when Modi walked on to the stage of the Madison Square Garden stadium in New York on his first trip to the United States, last year.

The diaspora had rolled out an evening of song and dance for the prime minister before settling in for his big speech. Such diaspora receptions would be repeated elsewhere. It has now become his hallmark.


Modi loves taking selfies and posting them on Twitter. In fact, his love for the camera is a bit of an Internet memes at home.

READ: 15 #ModiInDubai Memes That Shouldn't Exist

Trouble At Home

The lynching of a Muslim man by a mob alleging, wrongly, that he had slaughtered a calf, has sparked a wave of outrage against Hindu fundamentalism, and anger at Modi for failing to respond or address concerns about growing intolerance.

Over 200 writers, including Salman Rushdie, have written to Cameron urging him to ask Modi to "stay true to the spirit of the democratic freedoms enshrined in India’s Constitution”.

Powerful Person

Despite Modi's many troubles recently, Forbes has ranked Modi as the ninth most powerful person in the world.

"India's populist PM presided over 7.4% GDP growth in his first year in office, and raised his profile as a global leader during official visits with Barack Obama and Xi Jinping. A barnstorming tour of Silicon Valley reinforced his nation's massive importance in tech. But governing 1.2 billion people requires more than shaking hands: Now Modi must pass his party's reform agenda and keep fractious opposition under control." - Forbes.

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