Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India will be here next week on a one and a half day official visit as Chief Guest for our 47th Independence Day and 23rd Republic Day Celebrations at the invitation of the Government of Mauritius.
Narendrabhai Modi has captured the global imagination as never before since his meteoric ascendance to the highest seat of power of the world’s largest and oldest democracy on May 2014. The 2014 general election has been considered as a great divide in the recent political history of India since 1977. It was the election that changed India. And the man behind it: Narendra Modi, 64 – BJP’s biggest firebrand. From a quiet backroom worker, a pracharak, he was catapulted to the highest post as India’s 15th Prime Minister.
Behind his roller-coaster ascent to power is a story of tough politics and well calculated hard strategy scripted by no other than Modi himself. This has given rise to such catching slogans as Modi-fied India or “tsu-NAMO” wave. Having secured this extraordinary mandate he is writing a fresh chapter in India’s long passage through time, heralding a larger vision for the future with growth, innovation, progress, economic reforms, development, Swatch Bharat (Clean India) and Swatch Ganga (Clean Ganges) as his leitmotif.
Who is Narendra Modi?
Modi is a man of many dimensions, if not a man of all seasons, and multi-faceted. A growing restlessness pervades him. Narendra Modi’s governance and focus on changing the image of India not only in the global vision but in the Indians’ own eyes, with a sense of pride and dignity for Bharatiyata, for “asmita”, reveal a determination and courage Indians had lost for some time. Narendra Modi in his first public meeting after his effulgent rise to power said that “he would serve India like his mother and termed himself the nation’s Mazdoor No.1, the most dedicated of workers.” What is most remarkable about him is the paradigm shift in his style of governance: he would take everyone along, even those opposed to him. Did he not congratulate and invite Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s new Chief Minister for a cup of tea a few weeks ago? Modi says “a government does not belong to a political party but to all the people and he wanted to serve everyone equally.”
Modi derives his strength from Gujarat, the land of ancient mercantile and entrepreneurial energy, his launching pad.
Narendrabhai was born on 17 September 1950 into a lower middle class family in Vadnagar in Gujarat’s northern district of Mehsana, world famous for its milk co-operative society. Vadnagar, at one time – a thousand years ago – an impressive regional capital, is a small town with old havelis, stately ruins, and narrow lanes, where cows and buffaloes cross roads lazily, unmindful of traffic or anybody else, whoever you may be! The Modis were a family of eight, five brothers and one sister and the parents. The majority of Narendra’s childhood friends were Muslims and he observed both Muslim holy festivals and Hindu ones.
As a child Modi often visited the quaint temple of Hatkeshwar at the entrance of Vadnagar. He left his village long time ago to dedicate himself to the formidable wing of volunteers known as the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) consecrated to the service of mankind, Bharat and its eternal values. Later he would become its intrepid pracharak for decades.
Modi and His Crocodile
As a young boy, the story goes that Modi often went swimming in the nearby Sharmishtha lake on the outskirts of Vadnagar. He once captured a baby crocodile and brought it home. But his mother Hiraba was so shocked and outraged that he had to return it to the lake immediately! Like all boys, he was a little mischievous brat. As the saying goes “boys will be boys”!
We remember from TV footage how he venerates his aged mother of ninety-four. After he became Prime Minister, he made sure to pay a visit to “Ba” and receive her blessings. Modi comes from a traditionally oil seed farming/extractors family. Damodardas, his father had a small business as grocer as well as made ends meet by running in addition a tea stall in a little tin and steel shed (now padlocked) near the Vadnagar railway station.
Young Modi attended the local Gujarati medium co-ed BN High School, close to his father’s grocery shop. He was fond of taking part in debates and acting in local plays. Thus it is that he contributed to the building of a small amphitheatre, which is still visible in his own town.
However, due to the limited financial condition of his family, he started to help his father at the railway tea stall. The days would begin early for young Narendra, with trains often halting at the station even “before the first rays of dawn.” Life was tough, and certainly not what he had imagined for himself.
Childhood Dream Shattered
His childhood dream was to join the army. In September 2013 at a public meeting in Haryana, he said that when he was in the fourth standard, he came across a newspaper advertisement which announced the start of admissions to the Sainik School- a junior officers’ academy at Jamnagar near Balachadi, not far from the Pakistan border on the Gulf of Kutch. He was terribly excited at the prospect of joining the academy. He saved Rs2.- and went to the local post office for the first time in his life. The brave young Modi sent a money order to the Sainik School, with the postmaster’s help and asked for the prospectus. When the prospectus came he was elated! He ran to his school teacher who helped him fill out the application form for him. The duly filled form was sent to the Army School. He was asked to come for the Entrance Examination at Jamnagar. He asked his father for some money to buy a return ticket to Jamnager as well as meet other necessities for the journey. The answer was a blunt No! There was not a rupee to spare, he was told. Damodardas told him they were too poor and he could not afford to give him that money. Actually it was more to keep him in Vadnagar, a mere excuse. His dream of entering India’s army was smashed to pieces.
Some three years later, when he was in the seventh standard, he heard that the jawans were passing through the Mehsana railway station on their way to the border to fight the 1962 war. This time he left for Mehsana… without telling his father! Though his dream for joining the Army was shattered, still he found consolation in joining volunteers at the railway station to serve biscuits, tea and snacks to the bandaged soldiers.
If he wanted to be a jawan at one time in his childhood, it is also said he wanted to be a sanyasi, a monk. Narendra who shares his first name with Swami Vivekananda, was indeed impacted by the revolutionary science-minded swami, his idol from his early childhood, since when he had devoured all the volumes on Swami Vivekananda he could lay hands on.
Two Years of Wanderings as an Ascetic
When he was seventeen, Narendra abruptly left Vadnagar. He went to Ramakrishna Mission at Belur Math on the west bank of the Hooghly River in the early summer of 1968. It was a pilgrimage. He carried and lived out of a little bag. He was an ascetic. Unfortunately or fortunately he was not accepted in the Math monastery. He left Bengal and crossed over to the Himalayas and spent some time with the wandering yogis and sadhus. He wandered for two years in the Himalayas before coming down to the normalcy of day-to-day life. In those two years of nomadic wanderings, he absorbed the vastness of India in his system. It was an odyssey. It was an inner search too. No doubt these inner promptings and physical wanderings of his salad days have forged the man who stands as a towering world figure: A statesman who commands respect and draws awe from friends and adversaries alike.
As he grew up, the RSS became his absorbing family. Modi joined the local shakha (branch) of the RSS in Vadnagar at the tender age of eight. He underwent all the rigorous physical drills required by the rigid training, with a spartan way of life; he sang patriotic songs and engaged in group discussions on Hindu philosophy and religion. He was very fond of putting on the RSS uniform made up of a black cap, white shirt and khakhi shorts.
At twenty, he came under the guidance of Laxmanrao Inamdar, a pracharak at Hedgewar Bhawan which was the Gujarat RSS headquarters in Ahmedabad. He would earn a living by lugging containers of cooking oil for a local businessman. But, it is whispered, even here he was a rebel. He wanted to wear white shorts instead of the traditional khakhi shorts and insisted on keeping a beard! But whenever the RSS Sarsanghchalak Madhavrao Sadashiv Golwalkar would visit the outreach, young Modi would quickly don his khakhi shorts and shave off his beard!
He was a diligent learner. At the headquarters, he did all the odd jobs required by a trainee: such as washing utensils and clothes, serving tea, cleaning rooms and cooking. It is in the Sangh that he gave up eating salt. “There was no comfort in my life,” he told author journalist Andy Marino.
Although he had found conventional education tedious, which he had abandoned after High School, Vakil Saheb his mentor ordered him to resume his neglected education, sent him off to study history and extra Sanskrit. Thus young Narendra would take an extramural course and complete his degree in political science. Later he took a Master’s Degree in political science by correspondence from Gujarat University.
The Emergence of Leadership Qualities
His elders noted in him an efficient and sincere worker with an inclination for organizational work. He was soon given responsibility as a pracharak. He was totally involved in whichever assignment was given to him. When he was told to clean a car, he would do it to perfection for he knew that he would be taught to drive the car! He learnt to see life with the worm’s eye view. In 1969, the making of Modi the politician began when the Sangh would depute him to the BJP. Narendrabhai would take the plunge and move ahead never to look back, scripting a most fascinating political career that would take the whole world by storm.
1. Narendra Modi- A Political Biography- by Andy Marino. Harper Collins Publishers. 2014
2. Modi Demystified- Ramesh Menon. Harper Collins Publisher. 2014
3. How Modi Won it- Harish Khare 2014. Hachette
4. 2014 The Election That Changed India- Rajdeep Sardesai-2014 Penguin Viking
5. India Today- December 22, 2014, April 21 2014, December 15, 2014A