Narendra Modi: Why some Indians will fear their new 'strongman' leader

Right-wing Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi looks set to be India's new leader. Credit: Reuters

By John Irvine: Senior International Correspondent

It has been 67 years since India gained her independence. The Congress Party, personified by the Gandhi dynasty, has ruled for more than 50 of those years.

Now Congress is facing perhaps its biggest electoral defeat ever. The party's likely candidate for Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi, has failed spectacularly to convince the electorate here that he should follow in the footsteps of his father, grandmother and great grandfather.

Congress is already circling the wagons to protect the Gandhis. The brand needs protecting in the hope it has untarnished appeal the next time round.

That leaves outgoing Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh as the fall guy. He is going to get the blame for Congress’ electoral rejection.

Dr. Manmohan Singh appears an isolated figure after Congress' election failure. Credit: Reuters

An academic gentleman, Dr. Singh always seemed a little meek and mild for the rough and tumble of Indian politics. Shy, too - he has given just three full news conferences during his decade in office.

Popular exasperation at his perceived lack of strength is a big reason why he’s going to be replaced by a politician from the other end of the spectrum.

Narendra Modi is a right-wing Hindu nationalist. He’s a strongman who has galvanized the Hindu majority here.

But this is a vast country in which one out of four is not Hindu. That amounts to around 300 million people.

Schoolchildren in Tawali, an area that has seen religous violence in recent past. Credit: Sean Swan/ITV News

India is the second most populous Muslim country in the world, and Muslims have reason to be wary of Mr Modi.

In 2002, while he was in charge in the state of Gujarat, more than a thousand people were killed during sectarian riots. The vast majority of those victims were Muslims who died at the hands of Hindus.

The killings left Mr Modi tainted, accused of failing in his moral duty to stop the riots. In the aftermath he was denied visas to travel to the United States and the EU.

Riots in 2002 saw 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, killed in a frenzy of mob violence. Credit: Reuters

As India’s first non-Hindu prime minister, Dr Singh represented tolerance and diversity. Narendra Modi represents something else entirely.

No-one is sure how that will manifest itself following his rise to the office of Prime Minister tomorrow.