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On January 24, 1992, I saw him for the first time up close. He was speaking casually with journalists in Jammu. His tenacity, clarity, and precise word choice impressed me. He was only the general secretary of Gujarat unit of the Bhartiya Janata Party at the time, but his presence was noted among the most powerful leaders.

It was none other than Narendra Modi, the present Prime Minister of India.

Even after I returned from Jammu, the impression lingered in the back of my mind. After about ten years, his name reappeared in the public eye. The BJP high command had chosen him to succeed Keshubhai Patel as Gujarat chief minister. Keshubhai’s reign was shaken by a severe earthquake on 26 January, 2001. Keshubhai’s stature was enormous back then. Some said Narendra Modi was given shoes that were bigger than his feet.

The following year, chief minister Modi addressed a press conference in Delhi. In it, he detailed how the devastated Bhuj and its surrounding areas, after the earthquake, were brought back into the mainstream. Today, if you drive through the Rann of Kutch, you will find magnificent roads, electric poles in villages, water tanks, and hospitals as you pass through the salt-white sand. It was not an easy task, but if Modi had focused on the easy tasks, he would not be the country’s Prime Minister today.

Gujarat saw fierce communal riots the next year.

You may recall that when the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee exhorted to adopt Rajdharma in a press conference at Ahmedabad, chief minister Modi firmly answered, Wahi toh kar raha hoon sahib. Some said it was “audacity", but Gujarat’s chief minister realised he needed to make plans to prevent another such tragedy. Following that, Narendra Modi served as Gujarat’s chief minister for 12 years, during which time no riot occurred. No one can deny this historical fact. This could only happen if the man, in charge of law and order, was not blinded by his belonging to any particular community. In addition, Narendra Modi worked tirelessly to construct a welfare state. Government amenities and aid reached all parts of the population without discrimination or hindrance. All sectors gained confidence as a result of this.

How did this difficult task come to be? One day, he questioned Gujarat’s chief secretary, “From which Taluka did you begin your career." As soon as he received the chief secretary’s response, he said, “Do you have any knowledge of the state of that taluka?" You’ve risen to the position of chief secretary, but that taluka is still there, in the same state. Why don’t you take up that tehsil and revitalize it? When the chief secretary agreed, he summoned all of the secretaries and repeated the order. Every secretary was given charge of his or her first taluka.

Modi is the Prime Minister now, and his domain now includes the entire country. By deploying young collectors in the 112 districts, he has handed this great task to them. More than a dozen criteria were used to choose these districts, ensuring that the rays of growth reach the most disadvantaged areas first. What is it if this isn’t Antyodaya?

From Indira Gandhi to Narendra Modi, I have had the opportunity to visit, hear, and comprehend all of the Prime Ministers during my long career as a journalist. All of the Prime Ministers have contributed to the country’s progress in their own ways, but I can confidently say that I have never seen such a combination of determination and clarity about goals. He was born into a poor household and understands the pain of poor people. While working as an RSS worker in various regions of the country, he had the opportunity to learn why government projects fail despite the good intentions behind them. He was able to make decisions on things that were previously taboo due to his comprehensive awareness of society, authority, and the system.

He will complete the eighth year of his term as PM, this month. Results of recent assembly elections in five states have demonstrated that there is no political challenge for him. When it comes to social and economic issues, the Prime Minister will undoubtedly face challenges on several fronts. Assembly elections will be held in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh at the end of the year. Obviously, all eyes are on him, as they are every time.

The Pradhan Sewak, without a doubt, is aware of the difficulties ahead. This is why he has coupled Sabka Vishwas with Sabka Saath, and Sabka Vikas in his objectives. It’ll be fascinating to watch how he accomplishes this.

(Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.)

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