The main opposition Hindu nationalist party yesterday elevated Narendra Modi, a deeply divisive figure in Indian politics, to the party’s top decisionmaking body with his supporters believing he could become prime minister in national elections next year.
However, Rajnath Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, did not name Modi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, apparently because of opposition from some allies.
Smriti Irani, a BJP vice president, said the party would take a decision in this regard later. It is not known when the party will announce its candidate. The elections are due in May next year.
Modi yesterday was made a member of the BJP’s parliamentary board, which will select candidates and lead the election campaign.
Modi, 62, currently heads the BJP government in western Gujarat State. For more than a decade, he has worked relentlessly to market the idea of Gujarat as a business-friendly state and become a hero to a generation of businessmen.
Modi says he has transformed his state, bringing industries, jobs, electricity and water, in a country where power outages and joblessness are epidemic.
However, Modi is accused by rights groups and survivors of not doing enough to stop the violence and even stoking it when marauding mobs of Hindus killed and burned their way through Muslim neighborhoods in Gujarat State in 2001, leaving more than 1,100 people dead. He was never charged with a crime.
The riots began in February 2002 when a train filled with Hindu pilgrims was attacked by a Muslim mob in a small Gujarat town. A fire erupted — it remains unclear whether it was arson — and 60 Hindus burned to death. In retaliation, Muslims were attacked across the state. Since that bloodletting, Modi has ruled over a state sharply divided along religious lines
The Congress party, which has led India’s national government for the past nine years, has seen its position dramatically weakened in recent years, its reputation battered by clumsy political maneuvering, weak leadership and a seemingly endless stream of corruption scandals.
The BJP is expected to pose a strong challenge to the Congress party in next year’s elections.