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Narendra Modi is a hard nut to crack for Europe

The Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi has just won a landslide victory in elections in the western Indian state of Gujarat and could be about to enter the national stage. Can the EU afford to ignore him?

Narendra Modi on the cover of the TIME magazine

Modi has drawn the world's attention

EU diplomats have been showing Modi the cold shoulder ever since the Gujarat massacre of 2002 in which up to 2,000 people, most of them Muslims, lost their lives.

However, Gujarat happens to be one of the most successful regions in India - especially in economic terms - and after his third straight victory Modi has acquired the necessary credentials for higher office and greater responsibility, perhaps even at the national level.

What Baden-Wuerttemberg is for Germany, Gujarat is for India - a role model, a model state. Gujarat has been showing growth rates of 10 percent and above.

This is perhaps one reason why the UK recently broke the unspoken EU understanding when the British ambassador to India was sent to meet Gujarat's chief minister.

Nirmala Sitharam, spokesperson of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) expects other EU states to follow suit. "We are talking about a leader who was elected by the people of Gujarat lawfully." he explains.

"If diplomacy's language permits me, I object to this very breach of a protocol against a lawful citizen and against a constitutional authority whom the Indian courts till today have not questioned."
 

Maligned and revered

Modi has been accused of delayed and inadequate response, even of wilful inactivity during the Gujarat massacre, but rarely lets himself be drawn into the debate.

"I am against the allegations," he has said. "It's an allegation," adding that he had to be taken as he was. "But when you have any problem with 2002, then I'm helpless. I can't help you."

The average factory worker in Gujarat seems to think along similar lines - let the past bury its dead. For many, Modi is the best politician in the state and even in India at present. He is a man who many factory workers believe is incorruptible and provides Gujarat with electricity, water and law and order.

"He's number one," says one. "There's been development and everything since he came" says another.  "All these accusations are nothing. He is the best human being."

"He's a good man, he's giving us development. No conflicts, the Hindu-Muslim riots have stopped."

Gujarat state Chief Minister Narendra Modi

Modi divides his audiences

These men, including two young Muslims, work at the Tata factory, producing the cheapest small car in the world - the Nano. 

For them, Narendra Modi has created the right conditions for big firms to set up production facilities in Gujarat.

That's also why Jagat Singh, who acts as an advisor on economic matters to many German firms, is also a Modi fan.

He says he’s not found any resistance on any economic factors here. "People do have political views about the chief minister and the state but the moment we start talking about business, the sky's the limit. He has so many visions for Gujarat - he's going to set global benchmarks."

Youths burn vehicles and debris in the streets of Ahmadabad

The ugly face of communal violence

Neither forgotten, nor forgiven

However, Modi has a very different image in the eyes of the victims of the 2002 massacre. Juleka, a Muslim mother of six who lost many members of her family as well as friends, is convinced that Modi hates Muslims and would turn India into a Hindu state if he could.

"Modi did this to us but says he didn't do anything. So who did it? You were a big leader, you could have stopped the riots if you'd wanted."

She says angrily that the police said straight out that they didn’t have orders from above to stop the massacre.

“On 28 February, 2002, I begged and pleaded but the police did not help us. Our young daughters were killed. A number of girls were raped. They cut open the stomachs of pregnant women and destroyed the babies."

Ten years after the massacre, the legal enquiries are yet to be completed.

Looking ahead to 2014

The question currently under debate right now in India is not whether Narendra Modi will be the BJP's candidate for the post of the prime minister in the national elections scheduled for 2014.

Many are wondering whether he will be pitted against Rahul Gandhi, scion of the famed Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and general secretary of the Indian National Congress, which leads the ruling coalition.

In reality, neither of these two candidatures is anywhere near having been decided. Modi may well have to put up with opposition at a very senior level within his party because of his potential to polarize voters on religious lines, which is anathema for BJP's possible coalition partners of the future.

As such, the European Union still has enough time to ponder its stance regarding Narendra Modi.
 

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