Modi’s hero and potential youth icon

January 12, 2015 04:33 pm | Updated January 13, 2015 01:37 am IST - New Delhi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s early morning tweets on Monday paid tributes to Swami Vivekananda on his birth anniversary. He also asked his followers to tweet the thoughts and quotes that influenced them, some of which the Prime Minister retweeted in the evening.

This mix of interactive politics targeting young Indians using Vivekananda’s potential appeal on the one hand and social media on the other, is characteristic of Mr. Modi’s politics, political analysts and observers said.

The idea of the hardworking activist-ascetic as a model is important for Mr. Modi, an OBC in a “largely Brahmin dominated organisation,” said P.K. Datta, Professor of Political Science at Delhi University. “Vivekananda was himself not a Brahmin. He stood for Hindu unity and upholding Brahminism as an ideal.”

For Mr. Modi, Vivekananda may be a better icon to attract young voters with his international appeal based on his famed address in Chicago in 1893 at the Parliament of World Religions, compared to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s guiding lights – Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and M.S. Golwalkar. “Vivekananda is possibly the glue that Modi needs to sustain the middle class’s interest in Hindutva-based politics that the RSS cannot,” another analyst said.

Between the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections, India added about 10 crore first time voters. One of Mr. Modi’s key target areas is the youth. The Swami’s birth anniversary is celebrated as National Youth Day.

Mr. Modi underlined the importance of this connection for him in one of his tweets: “Swami Vivekananda is revered as one of the most prolific thinkers & a guiding light who took India’s message to the entire world…Let us pledge to leave no stone unturned to integrate our youth in India’s progress & ensure youth-led development across the Nation.”

Mr. Modi’s admiration for Vivekananda (born Narendra Nath in an aristocratic family) is no secret. An old associate who has observed Mr. Modi closely, said he has modelled several aspects of his life on Vivekananda’s.

In April 2013, when he was the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr. Modi had gone to the Belur Math near Howrah. He requested to be allowed into Vivekananda’s room, which is kept locked. He meditated for nearly half an hour. He said then he had wanted to live a monk’s life when he first visited Belur as a teenager. “On his birth anniversary, I bow to Swami Vivekananda. He is a personal inspiration, whose thoughts & ideals have influenced me deeply,” Mr Modi wrote in his first tweet for the day.

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