India’s Modi: abrasive Hindu nationalist set to be PM

NEW DELHI, May 16, 2014 (AFP) – To admirers he is a Thatcherite reformer set to jolt India from the economic doldrums, while his opponents liken him to Putin or even Hitler. Indian election frontrunner Narendra Modi divides opinion like few other politicians.

The rise of one of India’s most polarising public figures even split his own party, where worries about his controversial past and abrasive personality meant he had to overcome heavy internal dissent.

The 63-year-old son of a low-caste tea seller from western Gujarat state is seen as a hardliner within the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist opposition last in power between 1998 and 2004.

A yoga-lover and strict vegetarian who is said to always eat alone, Modi is steeped in the ideology of Hindu nationalism, having joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as a boy.

Committed to defending Hindu culture, the RSS has been banned twice by the government, and its cadres often harbour hostile views of India’s 140 million Muslims, the country’s largest religious minority.

While he has mostly campaigned on a platform of good governance and economic revival, Modi’s links to