From an obscure party worker to becoming a powerful political brand, Narendra Damodardas Modi's evolution as a leader with prime ministerial ambitions makes an interesting story. When he took over the reins of Gujarat he was relatively unknown but the torching of the Sabarmati Express train in Godhra and the subsequent riots in the state changed his political fortunes.
Although he was severely censured for not arresting the riots that lead to the massacre of hundreds of Muslims, such criticism only cemented his image as a leader who had 'protected' Hindus. For many Indians he is a possible prime minister and for others he is a Hindu zealot. Surprisingly, although he has mostly remained confined to Gujarat, Modi has takers in all parts of the country.
His appeal is widespread: some see him as a national security hero and for some he is a development man, but what is baffling is that the Bharatiya Janata Party does not seem too eager to project him as its prime ministerial candidate. Analysts believe that such a move could botch up the party's chances to come back to power at the Centre.
The problem for Modi is that he is still remembered for being in office during the Gujarat riots in 2002 and for years Modi was a political pariah, vilified at home and shunned by the West. A policy turnaround on London's part to renew political ties with Gujarat has come as a major boost for Modi's quest to be accepted as a mainstream political leader. Many of his critics say despite his attempts to refurbish his image, the ghosts of Godhra will continue to haunt him.
Lately, Modi has also made concerted efforts to project himself as a moderate by trying to promote religious harmony and has toned down his speeches, shifting their focus from Hindu revivalist rhetoric to wooing investment. What would be interesting to see is if his own party projects him as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Be that as it may, in 2012, Modi was one of the major movers and shakers in the nation's political firmament.