Prime Minister Narendra Modi's promise that the whole of India can benefit from his the "Gujarat model" of development has helped him trounce his electoral opponents at home and defy critics abroad.
The four-time chief minister of the state of Gujarat, backed by major Indian industrialists, slaid the dragon, the mighty Congress party. That has left the party that freed India from British rule, managed India's tribulations for the majority of its 67 years of independence led primarily by one family, the Gandhi dynasty, now searching for a new identity.
The election of a Hindu nationalist leader at this turning point in
India's history has raised serious concerns, mostly from ardent Nehruvian secularists, primarily because of the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat where almost 1,000 Indian Muslims were killed under Modi's watch.
In 2005, Modi was denied a visa to the US as a private citizen. No official reasons were specified for the denial, according to a former congressional aide. It was speculated in the media that this had something to do with his role in the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots. But Modi has never been "banned" in the US, and he was never on any kind of a "blacklist", contrary to speculation.
Modi never applied for an official visa as the chief minister of Gujarat, but many US congressional representatives have attended the annual Gujarat Summits for the past seven years.
Observers in Washington have also hinted that if Modi had applied in an official capacity, he would have been granted a visa. Indeed, the Obama administration has repeatedly expressed an interest in closely working with him, as recently as when the former ambassador, Nancy Powell, visited Modi in February.
Three factors could fuel a rapprochement between Obama and Modi. Firstly, Modi has been exonerated by the Supreme Court of India. Secondly, the BJP led by Modi has been elected prime minister with an overwhelming majority. Thirdly, the US needs a strong partnership with India as part of its planned "pivot to Asia".
Ideologically, Modi represents the Hindutva strand of Indian thinking that has been characterized in the Western media as "Hindu-first", "fascist", "autocratic", "sectarian", "divisive", "dogmatic" and "anti-secular". While the secular parties have preserved the exotic diversity of India, they have lately faltered on growth and development. While China has taken off, India has slipped way behind.
Across the board, younger, older, urban, rural and middle class voters overwhelmingly voted for development over and above any communal issues Modi's opponents may have raised. Yet, big challenges remain: Will Modi be able to replicate "the Gujarat model" of development nationally? Will he be able to keep the country unified without alienating the Muslim minorities? Will he keep India at peace with its neighbors, especially, Pakistan?
Modi may have to change his rhetoric and highlight Hindutva's age-old "inclusive pluralism", the concept of "Vasudeva Kutumba" - belief in mutual respect for one another, with interfaith tolerance and cooperation as the basis for relationships with foreign nations.
However, for now, Modi's business-first approach seems to be winning over the West.
Dinesh Sharma is associate research professor at Binghamton University's Institute for Global Cultural Studies in Binghamton, NY. He is the editor of the new book The Global Obama: Crossroads of Leadership in the 21st Century, published by Routledge Press. His previous book, Barack Obama in Hawaii and Indonesia: The Making of a Global President, was rated as a Top Ten Black History Book for 2012.