The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Is This India's Next PM?

Norendra Modi, the wonder-governor of Gujarat, is making more moves on the Indian Prime Ministership. His latest bid to portray himself as a no-nonsense pro-business  leader, and to transcend the controversy surrounding his Hindu nationalist past, had him speaking to a business college in Delhi earlier this week. His reputation as a golden-tongued orator appears to be well-earned. The FT was there:

“Our ancestors were snake charmers,” he said. “But we have become mouse charmers – our next generation is charming the world with the click of the computer mouse.”

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“As a child whenever we saw the ‘Made in Japan’ tag on any product, a pen or anything, one would pick it up and buy it without looking at the name of the company,” he said. “Why can’t we make India a global brand? Why can’t we make ‘Made in India’ a brand to reckon with?”

We’ve kept an eye on Norendra Modi here at VM for a while now. One of our staff was in India when Modi won his unprecedented third consecutive term as Gujarat’s chief minister. His widely broadcast acceptance speech, which asked the nation to judge him on the economic successes rather than on the bloody communal violence that so gravely marred his reputation seemed to be enthusiastically received.

India’s elections are approaching fast. With economic growth in India set to fall to the lowest figure since 2002-2003, Modi may very well have his opening. While he still faces a contest within the BJP to become its prime ministerial candidate, many Indians are looking forward to a contest between Modi and the still untested heir to the Nehru dynasty, Rahul Gandhi.

Whether the BJP or Congress wins the most seats, India’s increasingly fragmented political culture means that the new government will have to be a multiparty coalition. Neither Modi nor Gandhi can expect a free hand and obstruction by regional politicians will limit the amount of economic and government reform that either bloc can carry out.

The Obama administration will, however, face a dilemma if Modi wins. Muslims around the world will not forget his anti-Muslim past, and human rights groups everywhere have him on their black list, but good relations with India are vital to the Obama administration’s Asia policy. Washington will stay scrupulously neutral, one hopes, in the Indian election campaign, but we suspect that not a few administration officials will be quietly hoping that the Indian electorate will keep Modi in Gujarat for another few years.

Published on February 9, 2013 6:00 pm