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Modi's Trillion Dollar Arm vs. The Global Obama

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In India's general election, Narendra Modi's political pitch of development struck out his opponents at home and abroad. In his victory speech he said, "India has won. Good days are near." Now, India's two-trillion dollar economy will be steaming ahead.

BBC's Bennett Jones commented, "From tea boy to top man," it's a remarkable story. Almost 850 million voters may have cast their ballots in the world's largest democracy, making Modi a real paradigm shifter.

The four-time Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat, backed by major Indian industrialists, has slayed the dragon, the mighty Congress Party. A party that freed India from British rule, managed India's tribulations for the majority of its 67 years of independence led primarily by one family, the Gandhi dynasty, now seems to be searching for a new identity.

narendra modi
Narendra Modi

In a landmark victory, BJP led by Modi garnered a majority of the seats in the parliament (334 of 543), something that has not happened in 30 years, offering him a clear mandate. The political pitch of development over communalism seems to have worked with the younger demographics, completely bowling out the old guard.

The election of a Hindu nationalist leader at this turning point in India's history has raised serious concerns, mostly from ardent Nehruvian secularists, primarily because of the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots, where almost 1000 Indian Muslims were killed under Modi's watch.

In 2005, Modi was denied a visa to the U.S. as a private citizen. No official reasons were specified for the denial, according to a former congressional aide. It was speculated in the media that this had something to do with his role in the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots. Modi has never been "banned" in the US, and he was never on any kind of a "blacklist," contrary to rumors and speculation.

Modi has never applied for an official visa as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, while many U.S. Congressional representatives have attended the annual Gujarat Summits for the past seven years. If Modi had applied in an official capacity, he would have been granted a visa, according to Jonah Blank of the Rand Corporation.

The Obama administration has repeatedly expressed an interest in closely working with him, as recently as when the former ambassador, Nancy Powell, visited Modi in February 2014. Maybe Obama and Modi will meet in September during the UN's general assembly meeting, according to a recent panel at the Asia Society on the Indian election?

Two main reasons are driving Obama's rapproachment with Modi: 1) Modi has been exonerated by the Supreme Court of India; 2) The BJP led by Modi has won an overwhelming majority. Clearly, the US values a strong partnership with India as part of the Asian pivot.

Ideologically, Modi represents the Hindutva strand of Indian thinking that has been characterized in the Western media as "Hindu-first," "fascist," "autocratic," "sectarian," "divisive," "dogmatic" and "anti-secular." While the secular parties have preserved the exotic diversity of India, they have lately faltered on growth and development. While China has taken off, India has slipped a long way behind.

Across the board, younger, older, urban, rural and middle class voters overwhelmingly voted for development over and above any communal issues Modi's opponents may have raised. Yet, big challenges remain: Will Modi be able to replicate "the Gujarat model" of development nationally? Will he be able to keep the country unified without alienating the Muslim minorities? Will he keep India at peace with its neighbors, especially Pakistan?

Modi may have to change his rhetoric and highlight Hindutva's age-old "inclusive pluralism," the concept of "Vasudeva Kutumba" - belief in mutual respect for one another, with interfaith tolerance and cooperation as the basis for relationships with foreign nations.

For now, Modi's trillion dollar arm has done the magic in Western capitals. Obama congratulated India's Prime Minister elect and invited him to the US, where earlier he was denied a visa. Across the globe, Modi will be welcome while he pitches his development agenda to grow the Indian economy with a trillion dollar arm.

Dinesh Sharma, associate research professor at Binghamton University's Institute for Global Cultural Studies in Binghamton, N.Y. He is the editor of the new book The Global Obama: Crossroads of Leadership in the 21st Century, published by Routledge Press. His previous book, Barack Obama in Hawaii and Indonesia: The Making of a Global President, was rated as the Top Ten Black History Book for 2012. Read more stories by Dinesh Sharma.

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