Narendra Modi stepped up his offensive against India’s government at a weekend conclave amid growing clamor within the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party for him to be named its candidate for prime minister.
Modi, who won a third term in power in the western state of Gujarat in December based on his reputation as an economic reformer, attacked the government 14 months before a general election over its record on development and the ruling Congress party’s reliance on the country’s foremost political dynasty.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government “has doomed the country,” Modi told party delegates in New Delhi. Singh is a “night watchman” for the Gandhi family, he said using a term used in cricket to describe a stand-in batsman. He likened Congress to “termites” eating away at the nation.
The chorus of support for Modi to lead the BJP into the polls scheduled for May 2014 has grown stronger in recent weeks as leaders of the Hindu-nationalist party weigh his credentials as an administrator against opposition to his candidacy from some of the allies they would likely need to build a coalition. Rahul Gandhi will lead Congress into the election and may be nominated as premier if the party wins a third successive term.
“There are hardly any other choices left for the BJP than making Modi its prime ministerial candidate, irrespective of its allies’ opinions,” said Satish Misra, an analyst at the Observer Research Foundation, a policy group based in New Delhi. “Modi is successfully projecting himself as the man who can meet the growing aspirations of India.”
Some of the worst rioting in India’s independent history took place in Gujarat under Modi, when rampaging Hindu mobs killed least 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, in 2002. The carnage followed a deadly blaze aboard a train that left 59 Hindu pilgrims dead. No decision on the BJP’s pick for prime minister is expected for months and other leaders are likely to pitch for the job, other analysts say.
“A range of leaders from the BJP see themselves as prospective prime ministers,” said Sandeep Shastri, pro-vice chancellor of Jain University in Bangalore. “It is critical for Modi to get the backing of BJP in an unquestionable way.”
The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia canceled a planned video address by Modi later this month after faculty and students protested the invitation citing the U.S.’ refusal to issue him with a diplomatic visa since the riots, the Press Trust of India reported.
While Singh’s administration is struggling to turn around an economy growing at its weakest pace in a decade, Modi’s government has been hailed by Tata Group’s former chairman Ratan Tata, and billionaire Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL), both of which have investments in Gujarat.
The Gujarat state’s economy has grown an annual 10.2 percent on average over the last decade, against 7.8 percent for the national economy. Under Modi, Gujarat has raised power generation capacity more than fivefold, while his government says it is the only state in India to have surplus electricity. Its success in improving health and education indicators has lagged behind other states.
In the Jan. 22-24 survey of 800 voters in eight cities for Outlook Magazine, 41 percent said they would vote for a Congress party headed by its new vice-president, Rahul Gandhi. A BJP led by Modi won the support of 38 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 3.46 percent.
At the weekend conclave, Modi won praise from BJP President Rajnath Singh. “It won’t be proper to welcome Modi with mere words,” Singh said in his address. “He deserves a good round of applause, a standing ovation.” He also garlanded Modi amid shouting of slogans by party members.
While being credited for development in Gujarat, Modi has also been blamed by opposition parties and human rights groups for not doing enough to protect Muslims during the rioting.
The chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, whose state has a large community of Muslim voters, has signaled he’ll quit the BJP-led opposition bloc if Modi becomes its face.
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