Poverty inspired me to live for others, says Modi

By Arun Kumar,

Washington : Recalling the days when he used to sell tea in a railway coach as a child, Prime Minister Narendra Modi says poverty in a way inspired him not to live for himself, but for others.

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An emotional Modi talks about his life’s influences in an exclusive interview with Time magazine for next week’s cover feature on “Why Modi Matters” with a picture of the prime minister in a light saffron kurta and white churidars.

“The world needs India to step up as a global power,” Time says and asks: “One year in can Prime Minister Narendra Modi deliver?”

Speaking mostly in Hindi, Modi talked about everything from his ambitions for India to the global war on terrorism to what personally moves him.

Asked what influences him, Modi choked and teared up saying: “This touches my deepest core. I was born in a very poor family. I used to sell tea in a railway coach as a child.

“My mother used to wash utensils and do lowly household work in the houses of others to earn a livelihood. I have seen poverty very closely.

“I have lived in poverty. As a child, my entire childhood was steeped in poverty. For me, poverty, in a way, was the first inspiration of my life. I decided that I would not live for myself but would live for others,” he was quoted as saying.

His biggest challenge on becoming the prime minister, Modi said, “was that I was new to the federal government structures.

“Different departments tend to work in silos. Each department seems to (be) a government in itself.

“My effort has been to break these silos down, (so that) everybody looks at a problem in a collective manner. I see the federal government not as an assembled entity but as an organic entity.”

Asked whether he would like to have the kind of authoritarian power that China’s leader has, Modi said: “India is a democracy; it is in our DNA.

“So if you were to ask me whether you need a dictatorship to run India, No, you do not. Whether you need a powerful person who believes in concentrating power, No, you do not,” he said.

“If you were to ask me to choose between democratic values and wealth, power, prosperity and fame, I will very easily and without any doubt choose democratic values.”

Asserting that his “government will not tolerate or accept any discrimination based on caste, creed and religion,” Modi told Time: “So far as the government is concerned, there is only one holy book, which is the constitution of India.

“The unity and the integrity of the country are the topmost priorities,” he said. “All religions and all communities have the same rights, and it is my responsibility to ensure their complete and total protection.

“My philosophy, the philosophy of my party and the philosophy of my government is ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikas’ – Together with all, progress for all.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])