A transformer is poised to lead India

Narendra Modi hopes to build on success in arid state

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AHMEDABAD, India -- In the past 12 years, Narendra Modi has transformed his arid state into a model of what some believe India can become -- a place of wide, smooth roads, electrified villages, rising incomes and brand-name foreign investment.

Now, with Mr. Modi poised to become India's next prime minister, his supporters are hoping the politician can build on his successes in Gujarat state in western India and revive the nation's stalled economy. The six-week election concluded Monday, with more than 500 million votes to be counted today.

On the stump, Mr. Modi promised a new India, with an efficient, modern government free of corruption. He pledged to build bullet trains, hydroelectric power plants, manufacturing hubs and dozens of cities -- enabling India to rival China, the economic powerhouse next door.

A lover of technology, Mr. Modi even addressed several rallies as a holographic image.

But critics and supporters alike say the state leader dubbed "Development Man" may face challenges implementing his agenda nationwide.

In Gujarat, Mr. Modi has faced little opposition, with his Bharatiya Janata Party in power since 1995. He sidelined his rivals, limited press access and tolerated little dissent, critics note. Such control will be harder to assert throughout India, with its powerful regional governors, diverse cultures and noisy cable news culture.

And, for all of Mr. Modi's economic success, critics say Gujarat has made little progress on social problems such as child malnutrition and maternal health. Meanwhile, his strident Hindu nationalism has left deep divisions between religious groups in the state of 60 million.

A self-professed workaholic, Mr. Modi lives alone in a sprawling government-owned bungalow in the state capital of Gandhinagar. He typically rises around 5 a.m. and does yoga before beginning his workday, which usually lasts well into the evening.

Many of Gujarat's better-off Hindus support Mr. Modi because he has built roads and flyovers that ease traffic and has launched beautification efforts and festivals that promote civic pride, according to journalist Uday Mahurkar, author of a recent book about Mr. Modi.

"If India wants to get over its economic crisis and move forward, a big part of it is capitalizing on our own strengths" such as the country's growing youth population and skilled tech force, Mr. Mahurkar said. "Modi would do that."

Early in his first term, Mr. Modi created a program to provide reliable power to nearly all of Gujarat's 18,000 villages, leveraging available supply by separating domestic and agriculture feeder lines and cracking down on power thieves. Jyotigram, as it is called, is one of his signal achievements and electrifying India is likely to be among his domestic priorities. A third of the country is still not connected to the national power grid.

Mr. Modi said he made electrification a priority because of his own experience studying by a kerosene lamp during his youth. He grew up as the son of a tea-seller, from a family of the lower Ghanchi caste.

As an adult, he volunteered for the country's hard-line Hindu nationalist movement, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose power brokers tapped him to become chief minister -- similar to a governor -- in Gujarat in October 2001.

Not long after, religious riots swept the state, leaving more than 1,000 people dead, many of them Muslims. Mr. Modi was accused of not doing enough to quell the bloodshed. While a Supreme Court-appointed review panel found that there was not enough evidence to charge Mr. Modi with a crime, the legacy has haunted him.

In a bid to remake his image, he turned his attention to development. His efforts resulted in 10 percent average growth for his state between 2004 and 2012, although it has dipped since then.



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