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India’s next PM has humble roots, focus on economy

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Indians walk past a bus with a photograph of India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi as the same is prepared for celebrations anticipating his election victory in Ahmadabad, India, Thursday, May 15, 2014. Official results are expected on Friday, but exit polls by at least six major Indian TV stations show the BJP is likely to win enough seats to form a coalition government. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

Indians walk past a bus with a photograph of India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi as the same is prepared for celebrations anticipating his election victory in Ahmadabad, India, Thursday, May 15, 2014. Official results are expected on Friday, but exit polls by at least six major Indian TV stations show the BJP is likely to win enough seats to form a coalition government. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

90-year-old Hiraben blesses her son and India’s next prime minister Narendra Modi at her home in Gandhinagar, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, Friday, May 16, 2014. Modi and his party won national elections in a landslide Friday, preliminary results showed, driving the long-dominant Congress party out of power in the most commanding victory India has seen in more than a quarter century. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party captured a commanding lead for at least 272 seats in the lower house of Parliament, the majority needed to create a government without forming a coalition with smaller parties. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and India’s next prime minister Narendra Modi greets supporters as he leaves the residence of his 90-year-old mother in Gandhinagar, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, Friday, May 16, 2014. Modi and his party won national elections in a landslide Friday, preliminary results showed, driving the long-dominant Congress party out of power in the most commanding victory India has seen in more than a quarter century. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party captured a commanding lead for at least 272 seats in the lower house of Parliament, the majority needed to create a government without forming a coalition with smaller parties. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

Gujarat state chief minister and the prime ministerial candidate of India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Narendra Modi, flashes victory sign to the media during a meeting of the BJP members of Gujarat’s state legislature in Gandhinagar, India, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. India’s stock market and currency rallied Tuesday on exit polls predicting election victory for the pro-business BJP and its allies. Official results are expected on Friday. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

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NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s next prime minister, Narendra Modi, is the son of a poor tea seller who has long set his sights on the highest elected office in the world’s largest democracy.

The top official in Gujarat state for over a decade, Modi often contrasted his humble roots with the posh background of his main rival, 43-year-old Rahul Gandhi, heir to India’s most powerful political dynasty.

As the career politician led his Bharatiya Janata Party through a dazzling, high-tech election campaign, Modi called voters’ attention to his mother riding a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw to cast her ballot earlier this month.

“I am the chief minister of a prosperous state … And my 90-year-old mother goes to vote in an auto-rickshaw,” the white-bearded Modi boasted, punching a fist through the air as he claimed his place by India’s poor masses.

But despite playing up his folksy, common-man credentials, the 63-year-old Modi is widely seen as the darling of India’s corporate world and a decisive, 21st-century administrator expected to revive job creation and economic growth.

Modi’s singular message on the economy has helped him ignore or beat back criticism of his personal life — including his strong links to a right-wing Hindu nationalist group, as well as his four-decade marriage to a retired school teacher he had never mentioned publicly until last month.

Born in 1950, Modi will be India’s first prime minister born after the country’s violent 1947 partition and independence from imperial Britain.

His rise marks a paradigm shift for the secular democracy after decades of welfare policies that have emphasized lifting the country’s impoverished. Modi has extolled the merits of trickle-down economics through industrialization.

He also has maintained strong links with the conservative, paramilitary Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, which some describe as neo-fascist.

The RSS “will have a substantial check on Modi. He is not going to be entirely his own man,” said political analyst Kamal Mitra Chenoy of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Modi grew up in a poor village family, and at 18 was married to a girl his parents had chosen five years earlier. The union never stuck, and Modi soon left to travel for several years before returning and joining the RSS as a propagandist in his early 20s. He and his wife never had children.

Having studied political science in Indian universities, Modi formally entered politics in 1985 with the BJP, regarded as the political arm of the RSS. He quickly gained a reputation as a talented orator and a workaholic, campaigning for the BJP in several elections before being chosen as Gujarat’s highest elected official in 2001.

Modi and the BJP have been strategizing this campaign for years, launching Twitter accounts and promoting Gujarat’s economy as one to emulate for development and modernity, though several Indian states topped Gujarat’s average annual growth of 8.68 percent from 2001 to 2010.

Backed by enormous corporate wealth, Modi and the BJP ran an aggressive, tech-savvy campaign, sending out dozens of daily messages on social media sites and even having Modi appear virtually as a hologram at campaign events. Indian media quickly gave him the celebrity-like nickname of “NaMo.”

“Wherever I went it was a delight to interact with local people. Social media also helped me understand their sentiments,” he said in a Twitter message after balloting ended Monday.

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