The two main Indian political parties are sharpening their swords in preparation for a showdown in 2014, when the legislature is up for renewal. In Himachal Pradesh, the Congress Party – which guides the governing coalition – won the local legislative assembly elections, undermining the BJP, or Bharatiya Janata Party. The alternation between the Nehru-Gandhi party and the Hindu nationalist right wing party is a constant for the small Indian state at the feet of the Himalayas. Much more important in the most recent round of local elections was the outcome of voting in Gujarat, where Marendra Modi was elected Chief Minister for the third time. The BJP representative is now the most likely challenger for the national elections that will take place in less than two years, and for whom an informal campaign has already begun. The importance of Gujarat sets up Modi as the strongest hope for the BJP to win back the executive office in New Delhi from the Congress Party. On the Arabian Gulf and between Pakistan to the northwest and Mumbai to the south, Gujarat is among the most developed regions in India, with an articulate manufacturing system that is enviable not only by Indian standards. Gujarat has been driving India’s growth, which has been second only to the Chinese for years. Its farming tradition over the years has been married to the added value of factories: cement, steel, textiles, mechanics, and footwear have all contributed to unprecedented and substantial progress. Its 60 million inhabitants enjoy a relatively high income, and the business atmosphere is impacted less by bureaucracy and corruption than the rest of the country. Not by coincidence did Tata move the production of its Nano to Gujarat after the construction of a factory in West Bengal ignited protests. Modi’s ambitions are shadowed by his involvement in the ethnic and religious clashes that caused more than 2,000 deaths in 2002, the majority of them Muslim minorities. Modi’s party was on the front lines of the conflict, pushing an ideology of Hindu superiority and seeing the Muslim minority as the descendants of the Moghul invaders.
In this climate of tension and fanaticism, the mobilization of Modi’s party found traction in the electorate. A few of Modi’s close collaborators were convicted following the violence, and even the western powers put some distance between themselves and Modi. The United States denied him a visa and the UK refused to meet with him for ten years. Now this closure will be reconsidered, but it would be contradictory for the same country that gave birth to Gandhi – Gujarat, in fact – to now be in the limelight for a leader that represents only a part, albeit the most numerous, of its population.