Narendra Modi: India’s Reagan, Putin or Hitler, depending on whom you ask


Indian prime minister-elect Narendra Modi waves to supporters after performing a religious ritual at the banks of the Ganges in the Indian city of Varanasi. (Sanjay Kanojia/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

The seismic victory of Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in India's elections marks a fascinating turning point in the country's political landscape. Modi is poised to take the reins of power in the world's largest democracy with a huge majority in Parliament and has promised dramatic changes and reforms.

For many commentators abroad and in India, as well as loyal and rival politicians, it's a historic moment that lends itself to comparison. In fact, there's a whole cottage industry of wonks and politicos drawing parallels to Modi's rise. Punditry about the controversial chief minister of Gujarat who is now India's prime minister-elect is an almanac of world leaders, past and present, visionary and despotic. WorldViews compiled this list of Modi analogies. Did we miss anyone? Let us know in the comments below.

Shinzo Abe: "Just as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s return to power in late 2012, after six years of political instability, reflected Japan’s determination to reinvent itself as a more competitive and confident country, Narendra Modi’s election victory reflects Indians’ desire for a dynamic, assertive leader to help revitalize their country’s economy and security." — Brahma Chellaney, Indian geostrategist and commentator, Project Syndicate

Ronald Reagan: "The country's youth, in particular, see him as ideally suited to reviving India's self-confidence after a period of malaise under the current prime minister, technocrat turned politician Manmohan Singh, whose combination of personal integrity and weak leadership have made him the Jimmy Carter of Indian politics. To an American eye, India's voters seem to be yearning for the inspirational tonic of their very own Ronald Reagan."

... but also Richard Nixon: "Where Nixon loathed the Kennedys, Modi disdains the Nehru-Gandhi family, the dynasty that has dominated Indian politics for most of the nearly seven decades since independence in 1947." — Rob Jenkins, Foreign Policy

Margaret Thatcher: "Is this India’s Margaret Thatcher moment? This is a discontented and politically troubled nation, similar in some ways to Britain in the late 1970s with high inflation, declining growth, high fiscal deficits and a government in denial. Britain yearned for a strong leader then, and in Mrs Thatcher it got one. In Mr Modi Indians, too, have chosen a strong leader." — Gurcharan Das, Indian commentator and author, Financial Times

Silvio Berlusconi: "In Narendra Modi, India’s political scene seems to have found what Italy has in Silvio Berlusconi. Both Berlusconi and Modi rose to national power in the wake of big corruption scandals that called into question the party that reigned for decades in their respective countries: the Congress Party was involved in some of the biggest scandals in the history of independent India, and in 1994, when Berlusconi first ran for office, Italy’s Christian Democracy, the biggest party since the creation of the republic, was being dismantled following the “mani pulite” (clean hands) corruption scandal." — Annalisa Merelli, Quartz

Suharto: "Modi’s relentless campaign projects him as the Indian equivalent of bapak pembangunan, or the Father of Development, as Suharto was called during his 32-year-rule of Indonesia. Indeed, Modi may potentially become India’s first leader in the East Asian, and not South Asian, mould." — Salil Tripathi, the Caravan

Slobodan Milosevic: "If we’re going to make analogies with European leaders, Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat since 2001, is more in the mould of Milosevic." — Mehdi Hasan, the New Statesman, on the late Serbian nationalist leader who was charged with war crimes at The Hague.

Barack Obama: "The parallels between the 2012 elections in the United States, and the ones recently concluded in India can hardly be exaggerated. The only difference is that what Mitt Romney got wrong then is what Narendra Modi got right in another part of the world in 2014. Ironically then, the right-wing Modi is our Obama."--Palash Krishna Mehrotra, India Today

Ariel Sharon: "While one of Israel's most famous PMs [Ariel Sharon] was forever dogged by the controversy of Shabra-Shatila of 1982, Modi is trying hard to shake off the taint of 2002 Gujarat riots." — Indrani Bagchi, the Economic Times

Lee Kuan Yew: "Both Lee and Modi, as benevolent if authoritarian leaders, have understood the value of equity, fairness and discipline. Singapore has forged a national identity where the racial or religious divides among the ethnic majority Chinese and the less numerous Malays and Indians have dissolved — like the American melting-pot — into a homogenous Singaporeanism. In Gujarat, asmita or cultural pride has overcome to an extent the divide between Hindus and Muslims. Despite the strenuous efforts of the mainstream media and the Congress to converge on a single-point allegation (“1,000 Muslims killed in 2002 riots”), it is clear that Modi’s religion-blind, laser-like focus on development has shown that equity, fairness and discipline are appreciated by Hindu and Muslim alike if they help them prosper." — Rajeev Srinivasan, Firstpost

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: "The first choice is the ruling party, which has governed for decades and is justifiably revered for its secularism and its role in modernizing your country. But in recent years, it has become corrupt, insular and economically illiterate, and its new leaders look even worse. The second choice is the religious guy. He comes from a bold entrepreneurial background and has smart ideas for raising the rest of the country from its quagmire of stalled progress. But his political party has roots in religious extremism... In India, the religious guy is Narendra Modi...  Recep Tayyip Erdogan was Turkey’s version of Mr. Modi: a child of rural-to-urban migrant merchants, he represented a new entrepreneurial class and wanted to open Turkey further to Europe’s economy and politics." — Doug Saunders, the Globe and Mail

Deng Xiaoping: "Narendra Modi could be India’s Deng Xiaoping. Modi may turn out to be as big an influence on global history as the legendary Chinese leader." — Greg Sheridan, the Australian

Idi Amin: "Popularly elected dictators — Modi in Gujarat...and Idi Amin in Uganda ... one thing is common: they are judge, jury and prosecutor, all rolled into one." — Abhishek Singhvi, spokesman for the rival Congress party. He also compared Modi to the Italian fascist generalissimo Benito Mussolini.

Adolf Hitler: "Modi is adopting same policies which Hitler pursued in Germany in 1930s. He is a snake and dangerous for India's unity and stability." — Mani Shankar Aiyar, senior Congress party leader

After Modi's victory, Open magazine published a special issue with a cover line that invoked the rise of Nazism, a parallel its publishers maybe did not fully intend:

Vladimir Putin: "In Modi, it seems both the West and Pakistan see the emergence of a powerful nationalist leader like Vladimir Putin. And that is an unnerving proposition for many." — Pathikrit, One India News

Mahinda Rajapaksa: "Modi delivered on his promises to Gujarat in a similar way how Mahinda Rajapaksa delivered on his promises to his people and will continue to deliver in the future." — Basil Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's minister for economic development, likening Modi to his brother, the island nation's president

(ht to @siddhmi for provoking the #ModiComparisons conversation)

This story has been updated from the original after a reader suggestion to include a parallel to Obama.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.
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