ArrowArtboardCreated with Sketch.Title ChevronTitle ChevronEye IconIcon FacebookIcon LinkedinIcon Mail ContactPath LayerIcon MailMenu BurgerPositive ArrowIcon PrintIcon SearchSite TitleTitle ChevronIcon Twitter
India election

Narendra Modi -- poor tea seller who became India's powerful leader

Tech-savvy prime minister's charisma continues to garner electoral support

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, with Amit Shah, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, left, and other Indian cabinet ministers in New Delhi on May 21.   © AP

NEW DELHI -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to be sworn in for another five-year term after the ruling National Democratic Alliance headed by his Bharatiya Janata Party secured a comfortable majority in nationwide polls held between Apr. 11 and May 19.

Modi's first term began in May 2014 after his Hindu nationalist party pulled off India's biggest landslide in three decades, winning 282 of the 543 seats contested in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament. Nothing similar had been seen since 1984 when the Indian National Congress won over 400 seats riding a wave of sympathy in the wake of the assassination of its leader, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

A charismatic leader and orator, Modi, 68, was born on Sept. 17, 1950, three years after India attained independence from Britain and months after the country's constitution came into force. He was the third of six children born to Damodardas Modi and his wife Hiraben in a poor household in Vadnagar, a small town in western Gujarat state.

Modi has often spoken about his humble origins, including how as a child he helped his father sell tea at a railway station. Despite his family living in poverty, Modi always took care of his appearance and is noted for his fashion sense.

"Since we didn't have a clothes iron at home, I used to fill hot coal pieces in a metal tumbler," Modi told Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar in a televised interview in April. "I didn't own shoes and was gifted a pair of white canvas when my maternal uncle visited us once. But those shoes got dirty easily, and I used to whiten them with discarded pieces of chalk sticks used by the teacher on the black board of my class room."

Modi now wears crisp outfits made of khadi, a handspun and handwoven fabric. The Modi "kurta" -- a long shirt -- and jacket sell well in government-owned khadi stores.

Modi was still in his teens when he was married off by his orthodox family, and left home soon after. The marriage remained a formality on paper.

Narendra Modi working a crowd as chief minister of Gujarat state in 2007.    © AP

Modi acknowledged his marital status for the first time when filing nomination papers for a constituency in Gujarat before the 2014 general election. He had been Gujarat's chief minister -- equivalent to a state governor in the U.S. --  four times since 2001, and was credited for the region's economic growth.

His political opponents have on several occasions brought up his personal life, and accused him of abandoning his wife for political ambitions.

Modi was once actively involved with the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteers Organization, which was founded in the 1920s. The RSS is the ideological parent of the BJP, a party Modi joined in 1987.

After becoming prime minister, Modi launched a number of nationwide schemes including building smart cities and improving sanitation. He promoted programs like Digital India that aims to create a digitally empowered society.

Growth has been relatively strong during Modi's first term and currently hovers around 7% annually, but confidence has on occasions been shaken by some controversial decisions, including demonetization of high-value bank notes in a cash-dominated economy in 2016. The rollout of a tiered goods and services tax in 2017 caused major disruption to business.

As chief minister of Gujarat, Modi faced a boycott from the U.S. and the U.K for his alleged failure to control religious riots in the state in 2002. In 2012, he was cleared of any wrongdoing by an investigation team appointed by the supreme court.

A yoga enthusiast, Modi is widely regarded as tech-savvy and often reaches out to people through social media -- he has over 47 million followers on Twitter. His ability to connect personally with voters at public events and on roadshows is well proven. 

Modi describes himself the chowkidar, or watchman, for the country and vows to defend it against enemies. "This chowkidar will serve you round the clock," he promised at recent rallies as crowds chanted his name incessantly. 

Sponsored Content

About Sponsored Content This content was commissioned by Nikkei's Global Business Bureau.

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this monthThis is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia;
the most dynamic market in the world.

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia

Get trusted insights from experts within Asia itself.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Get Unlimited access

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this month

This is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia; the most
dynamic market in the world

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 3 months for $9

Offer ends October 31st

Your trial period has expired

You need a subscription to...

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers and subscribe

Your full access to the Nikkei Asian Review has expired

You need a subscription to:

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers
NAR on print phone, device, and tablet media