Past forward: While the Indian media kept its focus on LK Advani's opposition to Narendra Modi's elevation as BJP's prime ministerial candidate, the foreign press found it hard to let go of Gujarat chief minister's 'divisive' past.
As Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) anointed Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate ahead of the 2014 general elections, the national media played up the power-shift in the party and gave Gujarat riots and the chief minister’s alleged role in it just a passing reference.
For the foreign media, however, that was the story. An analysis of newspapers, both Indian and foreign, revealed that Modi’s ‘divisive stance’ and ‘Hindu nationalist’ image made it to the headlines outside India yet again with his elevation.
The Indian take
The Indian Express’ headline said, “Prime Modi: Gujarat CM is BJP’s choice -- despite Advani”. The article said the party aimed to tap “what it perceives as a groundswell of support for Modi” and added the decision to anoint Modi marked “a significant power-shift in the 32-year-old party as it did not have backing of LK Advani.”
The Times of India’s headline said, “BJP topples Advani, crowns Modi”. It went on to say that ignoring “L K Advani’s tenacious resistance”, the party announced Modi’s name marking “the end of the old order and emergence of a new one”.
West Bengal’s The Telegraph called its piece on Modi “Rebirth”. Playing on Modi’s slogan for new beginnings, it read, “Anointed, Modi says: Nayi soch, nayi ummeed (new thinking, new hope), Anguished, Advani says: I have decided that it is better that I do not attend today’s meeting”.
The international stand
The New York Times went with ‘Divisive Nationalist to Lead Opposition in Indian Vote’ as its headline. Describing Modi as “a prominent Hindu nationalist, considered one of the most divisive politicians in Indian history”, the article went on to say, “He is widely despised by Muslims here for the role he played in the 2002 Gujarat riots, when more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in brutal attacks that led babies to be impaled and women to be thrown alive onto burning pyres.”
It also described how Modi had of late reinvented himself as a “development expert”.
A blog on the same newspaper, called India Ink, discussed the US’ decision to deny a visa to Modi. “The decision placed Mr. Modi in the company of, among others, associates of Slobodan Milosevic and an Indonesian Army general who was suspected of torture.”
The Washington Post’s headline was “Narendra Modi, controversial Hindu leader, is his party’s nominee for Indian prime minister”.
The article talked about how Modi had turned Gujarat into an “economic powerhouse and a magnet for foreign investment” but went on to say that the chief minister “comes with serious baggage, as many allege he did little to stop riots in his state in 2002 when hundreds of Muslims were killed”.
The article said Modi’s official nomination may have come on Friday but he has “been acting like his party’s chief candidate for months”.
The Wall Street Journal may have abjured adjectives in its headline “India's Main Opposition Party Names Candidate for Prime Minister” but the article described Modi as a “contentious candidate” and “divisive figure”.
It said Modi’s “strident Hindu nationalism makes him an unsuitable leader”. The article said analysts believe Modi’s candidature would position “the BJP as a more pro-capitalist alternative in a country largely built on socialist principles”. It added that Modi’s base among the middle class, especially youth impatient with the state of economy at present, is growing.
However, the article concluded that Modi could face a challenge in winning allies. It also alluded to Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) severing of ties with BJP-led National Democratic Alliance over Modi's ascendance.
In the United Kingdom, The Guardian’s headline said “India's BJP names Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi as election candidate”.
The article said after Modi’s candidature, the 2014 general elections will see a “contest between two very different visions of India in what are expected to be closely fought polls”.
Talking about what lies ahead for the BJP, the article said, “A coalition government is a certainty and many regional powerbrokers, particularly those with large numbers of Muslim voters, have signalled their unwillingness to join an administration under Modi.”
It also talked about how Britain ended a 10-year diplomatic boycott on Modi in 2012, “prompting scathing criticism from some Indian commentators”.
The Telegraph went with a straight headline, ‘Narendra Modi to run for Indian prime minister’.
Other than an allusion to Modi’s ‘controversial past’ and Gujarat riots, the article also talked about staged encounters in the state, allegedly at the behest of the government, “Earlier this month his former inspector general of police DG Vanzara, who has been charged with orchestrating a series of 'encounter killings’ – extra-judicial murders of alleged Muslim terrorist suspects – said the attacks had been carried out under a policy decided by Mr Modi and his government”.