"People have blessed me and I believe their blessings will never go waste. It will give me strength and capability," said Modi.

BJP's big announcement to anoint Modi as its prime ministerial candidate is indeed a perfect birthday gift to one of the most dedicated, dynamic and successful politicians of the country.

The son of a tea-stall owner, Modi's journey into politics started young. As a teenager he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a voluntary right-wing group that serves both as the ideological incubator for "Hindutva", a hardline brand of Hindu nationalism, and as the philosophical parent of the BJP. Early, Modi was a "pracharak" or propagandist, living a monkish life and evangelizing from village to village to win new recruits. That experience taught him "your life should be disciplined," he said, and that "what work you get, do it well."

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A three-time Chief Minister, Modi joined the BJP in 1987. With a reputation as an efficient organizer he rose through the ranks, although his self-promotion and ambition earned him enemies along the way. He has battled all odds and stiff opposition from within the party to emerge as the face of BJP for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It is said about Modi that you may love him or hate him but you cannot ignore him.

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The blot still haunts him, with critics calling him a ‘polarizing’ and ‘divisive’ Hindutva hardliner under whose rule Muslims would not be safe. Modi has also been under sustained attack over alleged fake encounters and his close aide Amit Shah is under a cloud in a few of these. Notwithstanding difficulties on these counts, Modi has fought on and led BJP to three consecutive elections in Gujarat, virtually decimating Congress in the state.

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This achievement was the main factor that tilted the balance in his favour among the host of BJP leaders, including patriarch Advani, as far as consideration of a face for the next elections is concerned. Some call him BJP's compulsion, but the party, as well its mentor RSS are of the view that he is the sole leader in the saffron fold, who can successfully take on the UPA in the Lok Sabha polls.

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While having the image of a hardliner, Modi is also seen by many, including business leaders, as a Chief Minister who has led Gujarat to the path of sustained development. His supporters argue that he is a decisive leader who would be useful in countering UPA, when the ruling coalition is seen by its detractors as an indecisive dispensation, which has led to the country's economic mess.

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At the same time, Modi's critics see him as a dictatorial personality who does not tolerate dissent and discourages growth of any other leader. The stage for declaring Modi as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate was set in Goa in June when he was made the party's election campaign committee chief at the national executive meet.

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The decision was taken despite stiff opposition by Advani, who even resigned from all the three party posts, only to retract later after intervention by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. The naming of Modi as campaign committee chief, the virtual face of the party for the polls, had led JD-U to break its 17-year-old alliance with BJP, as it feared impact on its Muslim votes.

2001 QUAKE

In January 2001, nine months before Modi became Chief Minister, Gujarat was hit by one of the worst earthquakes in India's recorded history. Modi, who was working at the BJP headquarters in Delhi, called Parimal Nathwani, group president in Gujarat of Reliance Industries Limited, to ask if he could borrow the company jet to fly to Kutch, the hardest-hit district. Modi did not think Gujarat's then-chief minister Keshubai Patel - who was also in the BJP but was Modi's rival - would allow him on the official aircraft, Nathwani recalls. But "he wanted to be the first to reach Kutch, to see and analyze what had happened so that he could make a report for the party leadership in Delhi." Nathwani lent him the jet - handing Modi a political victory over his nemesis.

Nearly four months after Modi's swearing-in, Gujarat was hit by another earthquake. This one was man-made; the after-shocks can still be felt.

2002 RIOTS

On February 27, 2002, a fire aboard a train in the eastern Gujarat district of Godhra killed 59 Hindu pilgrims. While there are still questions over how it started, police blamed the blaze on local Muslims. That triggered a wave of violence in which Hindu mobs attacked predominantly Muslim neighborhoods. The Government of India later put the death toll at more than 1,000; human rights activists estimate at least double the number. Activists and relatives of the riot victims accused Modi and his government of giving Hindu rioters a free hand. In 2011, a Gujarati court convicted 31 Muslims for the initial attack on the train. Modi has always rebuffed demands for an apology. He insists that he did all that he could to stop the violence. "Up till now, we feel that we used our full strength to set out to do the right thing," he said.

Then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had reminded him of his ‘raj dharma’ but LK Advani and the late Pramod Mahajan helped Modi to survive as the Chief Minister.


A Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the role of Modi and others in the violence said in a 541-page report in 2012 that it could find no evidence to prosecute the Chief Minister. Most importantly, it cleared Modi of the most damaging allegation: that he had told senior officials to allow Hindu mobs to vent their anger. "Everyone has their own view. I would feel guilty if I did something wrong. Frustration comes when you think ‘I got caught. I was stealing and I got caught.' That's not my case. I was given a thoroughly clean chit,” Modi had said.


Britain, which has a large Gujarati population, did impose a formal diplomatic boycott on Modi for the deaths of three British citizens in the riots, but ended it last October. Washington maintains its ban, despite pressure from some Republican lawmakers in Congress. There has been no move at the US State Department to reconsider its 2005 decision to revoke Modi's visa over the riots, a US official said. Indeed, the Commission on International Religious Freedom, recommended last May that Washington refuse any visa application from Modi.

Modi has built a reputation as an incorruptible and efficient technocrat who has electrified Gujarat's 18,000 villages – Gujarat is the only state in India with nearly 24/7 power supply - and slashed red tape to attract companies like Ford, Maruti Suzuki and Tata Motors. During Modi's 10 years as Chief Minister, Gujarat has grown an average of 10 percent a year. The state ranked fifth out of 15 big states in 2010/2011 in terms of per capita income. Modi boasts it is the "engine of India's economic growth."


One key to the way Modi has transformed his image is "Vibrant Gujarat", a project he launched in 2003. The biennial event is aimed at attracting investment to his state. But it is also, say some of those involved in the project, a propaganda exercise aimed at erasing the black stain of the riots and marketing Gujarat, and therefore Modi, to India and the world.

As Chief Minister, Modi has embraced modern technology like no other Indian leader. He is active on Facebook and YouTube and has 1.8 million followers on Twitter, though aides say that number will have to grow substantially for it to have any impact in an election. During his re-election campaign last December, Modi used 3-D projection technology to appear simultaneously at 53 events - a world record. He appears impeccably dressed, either in suits or stylish tailor-made kurtas, a knee-length Indian shirt, rimless glasses and a neatly trimmed white beard.

Modi rises at about 5 am every day to do yoga and meditate. He reads the news for 15 minutes via Twitter on his iPad. He has not taken a holiday in 12 years. Modi lives alone and has little contact with his mother, four brothers or sister.


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