India's 'Most Admired and Most Feared' Politician Stirs Controversy in US

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Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: India is the world's most populous democracy and an important U.S ally so it's in America's interest to know about a politician who some say may be India's leader one day. He is Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat. The 61 year old has been called India's most admired and most feared politician. Time magazine recently put his face on the cover of its Asia edition. While that cover photo has hit a raw nerve among some Indians, particularly Indian Muslims, both in India and here in America. Reporter Anu Anand is based in Delhi and she says Narendra Modi was at the helm in Gujarat back in 2002 during a tumultuous time in the state.

Anu Anand: Horrific religious violence broke out in the state and Hindu mobs went on the rampage as a result of killing of some Hindu pilgrims, and a thousand Muslims it's estimated were brutally killed, some of them hacked to pieces literally and burnt alive. So, he was there at the time, he has never ever been convicted of any crimes related to that violence but it's been alleged over and over again that the Gujarati authorities were complicit in the violence that they turned a blind eye to it. And rather than ending his political career ten years on, Narendra Modi remains a very popular much admired chief minister, very successful. He's turned Gujarat into an extremely business friendly state, top industrialists court him. So that gives you an idea of why he is so loved and also so detested.

Mullins: Okay, so in terms of being so loved, we should say that he has as well burnished his own reputation by apparently hiring a Washington D.C. public relations firm.

Anand: He has a very touch and go relationship really publicly at least with the U.S. because in 2005 he was due to come on a visit and his visa was actually revoked. Now, it was never really made clear why that happened but the assumption was that because of his reputation and because of the violence that had taken place that it wasn't seen as a good thing to invite a leader like that. The visa issue has never really been resolved; the U.S. consul here doesn't really comment on whether their policy has changed in that regard. But clearly there's a huge amount of business between the U.S. and India and clearly a lot of that business is also in the state of Gujarat. General Motors has a plant there. There are tie-ups with Indian companies and the potential for trade with India is huge. So it's not only a question about his leadership in the state itself but the idea of him possibly being a national leader is a big big issue here, a very timely one.

Mullins: It's a timely one so then why is the cover story about Narendra Modi so controversial? This latest edition which features his face on the cover. Why has it been so incendiary and tell us just what the reaction's been.

Anand: Well I think it's incendiary because the man himself is incendiary. He represents both the potential for enormous progress here in India economically et cetera but he also represents some of the, well at least in some people's minds, you know the worst that this country has to offer in terms of the religious divide.

Mullins: So what does this controversy about this man's face on the cover of a magazine tell us about the current state of affairs between Hindus and Muslims in India?

Anand: This is a country where you know things are changing so fast economically and yet Muslims for example remain some of the least developed in terms of their literacy in terms of their earnings in terms of their education. There's a real grassroots difference between the Muslim community and the majority Hindus and to have a man like that who was tainted by his association with that violence is truly repugnant to a lot of people in this country.

Mullins: All right, thank you very much correspondent Anu Anand based in Delhi, telling us about the controversial Indian politician Narendra Modi. Nice to speak with you.

Anand: Thank you very much.