THE STRAITS TIMES ASIAN OF THE YEAR 2014
Narendra Damodardas Modi
In May 2014, Mr Narendra Damodardas Modi engineered a sweeping electoral victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party in India's 16th general election. For the first time in 30 years, India voted into power a party with a clear majority in the powerful lower house of parliament. This has offered the nation of 1.2 billion the prospect of political stability after years of shaky coalitions that paralysed decision-making.
Mr Modi, the first of India's prime ministers to be born in the post-Independence era, ran on a development ticket and on his track record as Chief Minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat which, under him, came to be called the Guangdong of India. His election energised the nation and excited Indians abroad, giving the Indian diaspora a sense that their nation was on the move again.
Since taking charge of India in late May, he has succeeded in bringing two key states - Maharashtra and Haryana - under his party's control, thanks to the positive image he enjoys across the nation and his vigorous campaigning. Today, Mr Modi's BJP party controls states that contribute half of India's US$2 trillion gross domestic product.
This augurs well for Mr Modi, for India, and for Asia. As China, Asia's No.1 economy, slows, and Japan, the No. 2, battles to shake off recession, much will turn on the robustness of the No. 3 Asian economy, India. Economists project that as early as next year, India could pick up the growth baton from China. Given its huge market, its travellers who fill up hotel rooms and cruise ship cabins from Singapore to Sydney, its hunger for capital goods and commodities, a resurgent India will be a boon for the region and the world.
The Straits Times editors note with satisfaction that Mr Modi's first priority has been to build ties in his immediate neighbourhood, a neglected area under the previous government. We also keep faith in Mr Modi's promises, made at the Asean summit in Myanmar, of a new era in the India-Asean partnership and that India will translate its Look East Policy into an 'Act East' Policy.
As a product that serves a multi-racial and multi-religious community, The Straits Times is cognisant of the criticism and concern that has been voiced about Mr Modi's handling of the communal violence that took place in Gujarat in his first months as chief minister. We also note that Gujarat, under Mr Modi, has had a healthy period of communal peace since. Mr Modi's development focus in the past two years - such as his call of 'toilets before temples', the emphasis on cleanliness and the protection of women - has helped his vast nation focus on providing a better life and equal opportunities for all its citizens, regardless of region, gender or creed.
In the six months he has been in office, the country's key stock index has treaded record highs. Investors are beginning to return to India. If a single person is responsible for this, it is Mr Modi.
As much for his performance as a growth-focused provincial administrator as for the promise of what is to come for India under his leadership, The Straits Times declares Prime Minister Narendra Modi Asian of the Year for 2014.