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Narendra Modi’s Rocky Road to the Prime Minister’s Office

Narendra Modi, wonder Governor of the booming state of Gujarat on India’s western coast, is hard at work positioning himself as a candidate for Indian prime minister for the 2014 elections. But Modi’s path to the PM’s office is full of roadblocks. How, for instance, can he convince Indians in the south and east of the country to like him? Sadanand Dhume wrote a great column for the WSJ that looks at Modi’s political future:

The problem is electoral. The BJP [Modi’s party] lacks enough of a base in southern and eastern India to even come close to forming a government on its own, which means it has to build a coalition. Thanks to anti-Muslim riots on his watch in 2002 though, Mr. Modi appears to be anathema to important potential allies such as the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh. Plus, there’s no evidence to show that his middle-class supporters outside Gujarat—including many of his 1.2 million Twitter followers—have either the numbers or the organization to count at the ballot box. […]

This offers a glimpse of how politicians can approach a problem at the heart of Indian democracy—the difficulty of selling sensible economics to an electorate largely poor and nursed on a diet of handouts. […]

Still, to regard him [Modi] as a messiah, as his more ardent supporters do, would be foolish. His most significant achievements in Gujarat—such as supplying reliable power as long as people are willing to pay for it—depend more on sound administration than on radically overturning the status quo. And even though Mr. Modi’s speech was clearly aimed at the country at large (it was in Hindi), it’s a lot easier to tout South Korean development lessons to college students in Delhi than to impoverished peasants in the hinterland.

Read the whole thing. It provides a glimpse into the many political hurdles that face one of India’s most recognizable and popular leaders. It also shows just how hard it is to gain the trust of India’s disparate political parties, especially regional groups with opposing priorities and aspirations. Democracy in such a complex society can be difficult indeed.

Washington should be paying close attention to Modi. Despite the roadblocks in his political future Modi stands a real chance of becoming India’s next prime minister. Warm relations between Delhi and Washington are vital for maintaining peace and security in Asia, but Modi, lambasted for his role in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, is not a popular figure in the United States.

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