Narendra Modi is on the cover of TIME this week in South Asia, available to subscribers here
. Modi is the most polarizing politician in India, rarely gives interviews and is a possible future prime minister, but it bears repeating that putting Modi on the cover is not an endorsement. Researching and eventually interviewing Modi was, however, fascinating, and yielded several surprises.
The road to his office in Gandhinagar, a smooth, featureless four-lane highway, held the first one: Modi ordered the demolition of about 120 small Hindu shrines to make room for it, despite vehement objections from his Hindu nationalist allies. Modi may be portrayed as an ideologue, but he is more complicated than that. “He’s the only leader in the country who would be able to destroy a temple and get away with it, and still be called acceptable in Hindu politics,” says Tridip Suhrud, a social scientist based in Ahmedabad.