Source: News Bharati English23 Mar 2015 17:52:07

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, is honored for empowering Hindus globally to be bold and proud of their religious and cultural heritage

The Hindu of The Year Award is intended to honor one eminent religious leader who has most impacted the faith and spread its values, compassion and profundity across the globe. In surveying the world Hindu landscape for that award upon the close of 2014, the editors of Hinduism Today encountered something unexpected.

The most qualified person was not a full-time religious leader as in the past, but rather a politician: Narendra Modi, India’s new Prime Minister. Surprised by our own conclusion, we reached out to several Hindu leaders for their opinions. Each agreed with us that at the moment, for reasons both historical in terms of India and personal in terms of Narendra Modi himself, he is indeed the right choice.

Many people pointed out that for the first time in 800 years, a Hindu is in charge of India. Even when independence was restored in 1947, the idea of secularism was enshrined in the Indian constitution, and the British Raj’s deprecation of Hinduism as the sustenance of the poor and unsophisticated seemed to only strengthen in the postcolonial Indian psyche.

Now India has Narendra Modi, not only the first PM born after independence, but an openly devout, practicing Hindu, committed to using the wisdom of Sanatana Dharma to the benefit of his nation, its citizens and all peoples of the world.

His impact has been particularly notable on the youth, who came out in droves to elect him. One swami observed, “His travel abroad, his speeches and the initiation of projects such as the cleaning of Ganga, have all given the youth of India a new absence of hesitation. They used to hesitate, but now the PM himself is without inhibition. He’s talking about faith, he’s talking about Hinduism, he’s talking about the old traditions. He’s not only just talking, he’s implementing, he’s bringing it into practice.”

Dr. Abhaya Asthana, president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, told us, “Hindus the world over are thrilled that there is a person at the helm of the government in India who is guided by dharma. By simply being himself during his recent visit to the US and following his personal practices, he sent a strong signal that one can be a great leader and be a good Hindu at the same time—there is no contradiction.”

Dr. Asthana is referring to the PM’s strictly upholding a water-only fast—which he has observed during Navaratri for the past 35 years—even while travelling, addressing the UN General Assembly, speaking to 19,000 supporters and government officials at New York’s Madison Square Garden and attending a private dinner at the White House. As others feasted in his honor, the Prime Minister of India took only water—an austerity which did not go unnoticed in the American press.

Born on September 17, 1950, to a family of grocers in present-day Gujarat, Narendra Modi began attending training sessions with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh at the age of eight. Drawn to sadhu life in his late teens, he spent two itinerant years before returning to his home state to work in a canteen run by his uncle.

After the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Modi became a full-time pracharak for the RSS and rose through the organization’s leadership. He received political science degrees from Delhi University and Gu­ja­rat University. Assigned to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1985, he was elected as Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001, the post he held until his election as the republic’s Prime Minister in May, 2014.

Living a frugal, solitary life has allowed him to dedicate himself fully to serving his country and her citizens, and to his sadhana, which is said to include worship, meditation, scriptural study and hatha yoga, from which he claims he receives tremendous energy. He composes poems in Gujarati, observes a strict vegetarian diet and abstains from alcohol.

Ramesh Shah, a close friend and admirer, and founder of Ekal Vidyalaya, summed up the personal philosophy Modi employs in his daily life and in his relationships: “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam (“global family”), sarvetra sukhinah santu (“may every being be happy”), Swami Vivekananda’s practical approach of Vedanta for humanity and the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.” Modi frequently evokes Vivekananda in his addresses and dauntlessly quotes the lessons of the Gita and other scriptures—in Sanskrit—when negotiating policy.

Shah said, “He is humble, yet firm in his duty. He knows his dharma; he knows what he has to do for the betterment of society. And when a challenge arises, he accepts the reality of it without getting frustrated, always calmly searching for a solution. Even when he has to rally, he expresses himself in a natural way, without losing his inner patience. We don’t have examples of this in the larger world, so this must come from his spirituality, his practice of meditation and yoga.”

A rising tide lifts all boats: It is far too early in Narendra Modi’s term for him to have created a list of accomplishments—though he did immediately succeed at having the UN adopt June 21 as International Yoga Day. But this award is not given for programs planned or promised for the future, such as the cleaning of the Ganga or improvements to Varanasi, his home constituency. Rather, it is given for what has already occurred: inspiring Hindus worldwide with a new sense of confidence, pride and hope.

Anshuman Mishra, a businessman who is affiliated with the RSS and lives in London, puts it this way: “I think he has become symbolic of the Hindu renaissance. He has created an enthusiasm among Hindus outside of India for the first time. This is a golden era for Hindus, and the respect which this new leader has brought is enormous. He is being an effective Hindu rather than a noisy Hindu.”

Here in America, Hindu organizations now encounter a different climate. Suhag Shukla, director of the Hindu American Foundation, an advocacy group, explained, “What has been most surprising for us has been the subtle but palpable change in attitude we’ve experienced in our meetings on Capitol Hill. The world finally sees an Indian leader who is not only not shy or embarrassed about his religious heritage, but admittedly draws inspiration from it. This vocalization has a tremendous impact on ordinary Hindus. It provides a much-needed articulation of faith in action.”

Tulsi Gabbard, the sole Hindu member of the US House of Representatives, has seen her career and influence boosted by Mr. Modi’s invitation for her to visit India and their subsequent meeting in December, 2014. Receiving personal attention from a world leader is an honor not usually enjoyed by someone just beginning her second term in Congress.

While opponents warned that putting an avowed Hindu in India’s top leadership position might result in alienation of the country’s minorities, supporters say there has been no evidence of that so far. Ramesh Shah explained, “We know what he has done for Gujarat, where not a single minority has been marginalized; they actually came up financially, educationally and in all ways during his administration. In the same way, on a national level, he always speaks of what must be done for all 1.25 billion citizens of India.”

That the world’s second most populous country has, for the first time in modern history, a leader who openly lives a pious life and unabashedly brings precepts from the Sanatana Dharma forward in his government has inspired and empowered Hindus everywhere. It is this leader whom we honor with the Hindu Renaissance Award, naming him Hindu of the Year, 2014.

Previous awardees are Swami Param­a­nanda Bharati (’90), Swami Chidananda Saraswati (’91), Swami Chinmayananda (’92), Mata Amritanandamayi Ma (’93), Swami Satchid­ananda (’94), Pramukh Swami Maharaj (’95), Satya Sai Baba (’96), Sri Chinmoy (’97), Swami Bua (’98), Swami Chid­ananda Saraswati of Divine Life Society (’99), Ma Yoga Shakti (’00), Dr. T. S. Sambamurthy Sivachariar (’01), Dada J.P. Vaswani (’02), Sri Tiruchi Mahaswamigal (’03), Dr. K. Pichai Sivacharya (’04), Swami Tejomayananda (’05), Ramesh Bhai Oza (’06), Sri Balagangadharanathaswami (’07), Swami ­Avdheshanand (’08), Swami Gopal Sharan Devacharya (’09), Sri P. Parameswaran (’10), Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamiji (’11), the Shilpa Parampara (’12) and Sree Sree Dr. Shivakumara Swami (’13).