Narendra Modi: India’s Frank Underwood

2 years ago ccwa 0

4695603323_3d2b251dd2_b“One heartbeat away from Presidency and not a single vote cast in my name. Democracy is so over-rated,” says Frank Underwood, after being sworn in as Vice-President. Sure, he would like to think so. Hell, he proved to us that it is. But that’s Frank Underwood: arrogant, overbearing, powerful, and dangerous.

Granted, he is a work of fiction, one that led to a wide downpour of imagination, a shot at the Emmys, and a great Netflix Original. A bit theatrical I suppose, but when anyone writes about Frank Underwood, theatrics is always in the cards. Many would argue though, that Underwood’s character isn’t very realistic; that no one would so ruthlessly opporunistic in real life. Maybe they are too scared to see it happening in real life. Or too blind to see that it already has.

The story of Narendra Modi is an archetypical ‘Rags to Riches’ story. He has risen from his life as a tea-stall owner or chaiwalla (even he prefers the latter) to being the embodiment of Indian political power; from submitting his Chief Ministerial resignation in 2002 to helping his party win enough seats to single-handedly run the government.  Narendra Modi has seen and done it all. And now he sits at the most powerful seat in India, which he looks to retain for many years to come.

It might seem a bit disrespectful to compare Modi with Underwood, to objectify his “noble” climb to success as a thirst for power. Perhaps this is true. But there is an ulterior motive to everything everyone does. One just has to look at the right places.

Narendra Modi was born on 17th September 1950 to Damodardas Mulchand and Heeraben Modi. He was the third of six children. As a child, he used to help his father sell tea at the local train station. Toward the end of his first decade of life, Modi joined RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), a non-governmental voluntary organization that emphasizes selfless service to India and promotes a Hindu nationalist view. Slowly rising through the ranks, he was 25 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi issued a state of emergency, leading to the ban of most opposition groups, including RSS, in 1975. Modi was forced to go underground with many other RSS members, travelling in disguise to avoid arrest several times.

In 1985, many years after the state of emergency had been called off, he was assigned to the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janta Party by RSS. Again rising through the ranks, he became the right hand man of Keshubhai Patel, Chief Minister of Gujarat. When Keshubhai’s health started failing in 2001, the BJP leadership looked for a replacement. Modi stepped up and took on the role of Chief Minister of Gujarat.

This was his first grab of power. He had done much to establish himself in Indian politics. But this wasn’t enough. It was never going to be. He wanted to rise above everything and everyone else. From here he embarked on a 13 yearlong struggle towards the most powerful position in Indian politics.

But no such journey is without dark moments. To reach those heights in politics, one has to bury several skeletons in the closet. In Modi’s case, the number of skeletons was a little higher. In 2002, several months after being sworn in as CM, religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims came to a head. On 27th February 2002, a train carriage carrying a number of Hindi pilgrims was burned near Godhra, killing 60 people. This led to an outbreak of riots in Gujarat, which claimed the lives of almost 1800 people. During the riots, the Modi administration was accused of taking insufficient action and was even rumored to be an active part in the Muslim genocide.

After the riots, widespread calls for Modi to resign came from both in and outside the party. Succumbing to the public outcry, he submitted his resignation on 19th July 2002, after which the Gujarat state assembly dissolved and new elections took place. Modi competed in that election, taking the lead as the primary CM candidate, and won by a landslide.

Modi’s actions were clearly strategic. He knew that resignation would calm the media and the opposition, after which he could muster the votes of Hindu Gujaratis, who quietly supported his actions during the riots, and win the election, thus silencing his critics.

A few months after the riots, New York Times reporter Celia Dugger asked Modi if he wished he had handled the riots any differently. He told her his greatest regret was not handling the media better. Dugger said in a Times video interview that Modi did not show “any regret or [express] any empathy for those who had been slaughtered in his state, on his watch.”

From 2002 to 2014 India saw Modi’s biggest rise in power. After the riots, Modi started emphasizing the economic development of Gujarat, leading to an economic boom. Cutting through corruption and bureaucracy, he wiped the state’s slate clean, piquing the interest of investors. He improved infrastructure and empowered the youth, who believed were the solution to all of India’s problems. Soon, Gujarat’s eye-catching economic development made Modi very popular. The BJP easily won another landslide victory in the elections of 2012, and Modi started what looked to be another peaceful yet eventful tenure as the Chief Minister.

But all was not as peaceful as it seemed. The 2014 General Elections were approaching, and BJP faced the massive task of competing against Congress, a party that had retained office for two successive terms. A victory, if one was even possible, would be hard-fought, and BJP needed a leader—someone to make them the most powerful party in India, giving India a shot at being a better country.

But who would that leader be? LK Advani, who had been the head of the party after the retirement of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was the obvious choice. But was he the right one? Instead of Advani, the leaders in BJP chose Narendra Modi to lead them into battle. This decision, although not unprecedented, was not received well by Advani. A few days later, he submitted his letter of resignation, in which he stated, “Most leaders of ours are now concerned just with their personal agendas,” hinting at Modi’s rise to power and hunger for more. The BJP leadership board, however, did not accept Advani’s resignation. Modi, meanwhile, stood quietly at his post and stated that he would “stand by whatever decision the Board takes.”

The elections came and went. The BJP emerged victorious on a grand scale. Under Narendra Modi’s guidance it garnered enough votes to form a non-coalition government. The parallels to Frank Underwood’s meteoric rise are uncanny.

Emerging as a vibrant leader? Check.

Brilliant politician and tactician? Check.

Alleged hand in mass genocide? Check.

Overthrowing a more senior figure on his path to the office? Check.

Getting away with all of it? Check and check.

Questionable though his rise may have been, as an Indian citizen, I personally look forward to where Modi’s effective leadership will take India in the years to come.


by Abhishek Doshi

(photo credit: Mudassir Rizwan,