Is the election of a pro-business, pro-American, growth-oriented prime minister in the world's largest democracy good news or bad news for the world's oldest democracy? We in that oldest democracy are currently governed by the Democrats, a party that has more in common with the defeated Congress party in India than with the victorious Bharatiya Janata Party. You could tell that the White House was less than overjoyed at the election of Narendra Modi when the spokesman recited boilerplate praise of a "free and fair election."
Are there sensitivities regarding this particular small-government guy? Sure. India is not Indiana. The man who has just been elected prime minister was until recently included on a list of people prohibited from entering this country by the State Department.
His exclusion arose from an ugly episode of ethnic violence and murder in the province he governed, Gujarat state, in 2002. A train carrying mostly Hindus returning from a pilgrimage was firebombed, killing 59 people, including 25 women and 15 children. Muslims were thought responsible, and Hindus responded with a horrific murder spree of their own, killing as many as a thousand Muslims. Modi, as governor of Gujarat state, was held responsible for not doing more to protect the Muslim minority. India's Supreme Court, however, ruled that he was not culpable.
Most of the coverage of India's election described Bharatiya Janata as a "Hindu nationalist" party, so it was surprising to see the party performed well even in regions with large Muslim populations. Reuters quoted a Muslim leader in West Bengal, Syed Mohammed Khalid, who said that Muslim voters were not alarmed by Modi, but in any case: "This (was) not a vote on communal lines. This (was) a vote for development and for jobs."
Looking only at his economic record, Modi appears to be the Margaret Thatcher of India. Like Thatcher, Modi is the child of a small businessman, a tea seller in Modi's case. Like her, he is not from the aristocracy. In fact, he's not above a little reverse snobbery about his lower-caste origins. Claiming that the Congress Party had wondered how a tea seller could be prime minister, he sniped, "I sold tea, not the country."