Narendra Modi often says that he likes to think big, dream big and do big work.

The man, who sold tea at a railway station in his childhood and whose mother was a dishwasher, has come a long way from his humble beginnings after becoming the second Indian to win a national election three times in a row. And, he’s still thinking big.

Opinion polls ahead of the election that begins on April 19 and ends on June 1 predicted he would equal the record of three terms held by India’s first prime minister, the Western-educated and wealthy Jawaharlal Nehru, who described India’s independence in 1947 as a “rendezvous with destiny”.

If he wins, this could be 73-year-old Modi’s final term as he seeks to cement a legacy of setting India on a path to eradicate poverty and become a fully developed nation by 2047, the 100th year of independence from British colonial rule.

He aims to increase the size of the economy nearly eight-fold to $29 trillion and per capita income nearly seven-fold to $18,000 by then, as well as gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

“I am devoting every moment to make India a developed country,” Modi said at an election rally in April. “That is why I am working 24X7 for 2047.”

As voting progressed, opposition parties said they had become more confident of victory, as they had been promised more aid, affirmative action and more jobs.

They say another term for Modi could seriously damage India’s secular and democratic traditions, as they argue his Hindu nationalist agenda has polarised the country. He has also been accused of authoritarian rule, stifling dissent, and politically motivated arrests of prominent opposition leaders for alleged corruption.

In nearly 23 years since he became chief minister of his home state Gujarat in 2001, Modi, who has been in constant pursuit of votes, has made no bones about using his humble upbringing to build a base of supporters in a country where hundreds of millions of the 1.42 billion people are poor.

“I know the pain of living under a weak roof,” he said at a rally in Bastar, one of India’s most underdeveloped regions.

“I know what a mother goes through when there is no food at home. I know how helpless a mother feels when there is no money to buy medicine. So, I decided that I will not rest until I remove every worry of the poor.”

He regularly ridicules the Nehru-Gandhi family, as he claims their control over the main opposition party, the Congress, despite their massive defeats in the last two elections, while he himself has kept his family away from politics.

At another rally in March, he said, “I have left my family. Not for myself, not for fun, but for my country. This is my country, this is my family.”

very successful?

His younger brother Pankaj said their mother died in late 2022 and lived in Gujarat with one of her four other sons. Modi’s estranged wife Jashodaben lives separately in the western state.

“My brother has always maintained a very clear boundary between his work and family,” Pankaj Modi, a retired Gujarat government official, told Reuters.

Surendra Kumar Dwivedi, former head of the Department of Political Science at Lucknow University, said Modi’s ability to overcome difficulties has made him successful, but he may be overly successful.

“My only problem with Modi today is that he has become bigger than the party,” he said. “In a democratic system… the party should always be placed above the individual.”

hindu zeal

Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been increasingly trying to woo the majority Hindu community, including by building a Hindu temple at the site of a demolished mosque, sparking a wave of religious fervour.

His approval rating stood at 74% in early May, the highest among 25 world leaders tracked by US data intelligence company Morning Consult.

Modi was once an outcast in the West because of deadly religious riots in Gujarat when he was chief minister in 2002. But he has now become popular around the world, thanks to India’s world-class economic growth and its position as a counterweight to China.

The riots killed at least 1,000 people across Gujarat, mostly Muslims, though activists say the death toll is more than twice that. Critics accused Modi of failing to protect Muslims, but he denied the charges and a Supreme Court-ordered investigation found no evidence to prosecute him.

Still, the US has raised concerns about the treatment of Muslims, underprivileged Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities in India under his rule. Modi says his government works for the welfare of all without any discrimination.

Modi has not addressed a single press conference in the last decade, but the Indian media fawns over him, and gives him full coverage when he visits Hindu temples or speaks at rallies.

He honed his oratory as a full-time pracharak for the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the de facto parent of the BJP, which he joined after school.

With thinning white hair, a neatly trimmed white beard and immaculate Indian attire, Modi is the main face of the BJP’s election campaigns.

In 2015, he was ridiculed for wearing a suit embroidered with his name while meeting US President Barack Obama. The suit was later auctioned and sold to a diamond merchant from Gujarat for over half a million US dollars, which was used for a project to clean the Ganges river.

Modi’s colleagues and cabinet members say he is unable to sleep much because of his time constraints.

“I am working with a boss who practically works 20 hours a day and hasn’t taken a single holiday in all the years I have seen him,” Railway and Electronics Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said at a recent event.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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