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India's next PM has humble roots, focus on economy

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 16, 2014 at 7:38 am •  Published: May 16, 2014
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NEW DELHI (AP) — India's next prime minister, Narendra Modi, is the son of a poor tea seller and has long set his sights on the highest elected office in the world's largest democracy.

The top official in Gujarat state for over a decade, Modi often contrasted his humble roots with the posh background of his main rival, 43-year-old Rahul Gandhi, heir to India's most powerful political dynasty.

As the career politician led his Bharatiya Janata Party through a dazzling, high-tech election campaign, Modi called voters' attention to his mother riding a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw to cast her ballot earlier this month.

"I am the chief minister of a prosperous state ... And my 90-year-old mother goes to vote in an auto-rickshaw," the white-bearded Modi boasted, punching a fist through the air as he claimed his place by India's poor masses.

But despite playing up his folksy, common-man credentials, the 63-year-old Modi is widely seen as the darling of India's corporate world and a decisive, 21st-century administrator expected to revive job creation and economic growth.

Modi's singular message on the economy has helped him ignore or beat back criticism of his personal life — including his strong links to a right-wing Hindu nationalist group, as well as his four-decade marriage to a retired school teacher he had never mentioned publicly until last month.

Born in 1950, Modi will be India's first prime minister born after the country's violent 1947 partition and independence from imperial Britain.

His rise marks a paradigm shift for the secular democracy after decades of welfare policies that have emphasized lifting the country's impoverished. Modi has extolled the merits of trickle-down economics through industrialization.

He also has maintained strong links with the conservative, paramilitary Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, which some describe as neo-fascist.

The RSS "will have a substantial check on Modi. He is not going to be entirely his own man," said political analyst Kamal Mitra Chenoy of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Modi grew up in a poor village family, helping his father sell tea. At 18, he was married to a girl his parents had chosen five years earlier. The union never stuck, and Modi soon left to travel for several years before returning and joining the RSS as a propagandist in his early 20s. He and his wife never had children.

Having studied political science in Indian universities, Modi formally entered politics in 1985 with the BJP, regarded as the political arm of the RSS. He quickly gained a reputation as a talented orator and a workaholic, campaigning for the BJP in several elections before being chosen as Gujarat's highest elected official in 2001.

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