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Is Narendra Modi BJP's biggest strength as well as its biggest weakness?


Sagarika Ghose, CNN-IBN
Jun 09, 2013 at 08:51pm IST

New Delhi: He has been called the "Hindu Hriday Samrat", "Maut Ka Saudagar" (Merchant of Death), Great Dictator and a "Polarising Politician" and yet Narendra Modi's election victories continue to pile up. The latest sweep in Gujarat by-elections has also bolstered his image as the supreme vote catcher - he won in 2002, in 2007 and won again in 2012.

And yet the Gujarat riots of 2002 shadow his footsteps so doggedly that he fights them every day. However, he refuses to answer questions on the riots.

"The ones who run the Gujarat government are merchants of death," Sonia Gandhi, Congress President, had said.

Thousands of Sangh Parivar activists have been accused in Gujarat riot cases. The law has reached senior ministers like Maya Kodnani in Modi's own government. His own Sangh Parivar reportedly turned against him for failing to protect them, but he has kept winning popularity.

He sees himself as a victim; someone unfairly painted as communal by the media, misjudged by pundits, and persecuted by NGOs. His senior police officers are also in jail for encounter killings and he himself faces charges over his role in the riots.

His answer to the accusations has been unleashing an armoury of development in his state - Gujarat. He believes development will wipe out the riots of 2002 from history and memory.

Modi is the one politician unafraid to sound business friendly in public, thus winning the vote of industry. He has been on the TIME magazine cover for all his efforts and even the British envoy came calling despite the fact that Modi still can't get a visa to the US.

The 63-year-old is known to be a workaholic dynamo, handling many key ministries himself and now the post of Chief Minister of Gujarat for a record fourth term. His victory speech was marked by the drive to conquer India. "I've repaid my debt to Gujarat, now it's my turn to repay my debt to India," he had proclaimed.

When Modi announced his "Dilli Chalo" campaign, many of his partymen lined up to pay obeisance to Modi. "(He is a) decisive leader who wins hearts but also polarises," said party colleague Smriti Irani.

But, powerful NDA allies have already given their thumbs down to Modi. "The country can run in harmony if it follows secular ideals," Bihar Chief Minister and a fierce Modi opponent Nitish Kumar had said.

And even though he was once the chief organizer of party patriarch LK Advani's yatra in 1990, Advani has made it clear that there are others as capable as Modi. "Modi made prosperous Gujarat vibrant but leaders in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh did wonders for underdeveloped states. I give credit to Shivraj Chouhan for that," Advani had said in May.

Modi is compared to former prime minister and BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but there is another politician - Indira Gandhi - who perhaps he resembles more closely. She was someone who subordinated her party to rise to being supreme leader. Someone who reached over the head of the party directly to the people.

Today, Modi-rise may be the cry within the BJP, but sometimes invincibility is a weakness. And as far as electoral politics is concerned, Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi, the ambitious boy from a humble family from Vadnagar may be the BJP's greatest strength as well as its biggest weakness.

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