The largest ally of India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said the prime ministerial candidate of their coalition should have a secular image, a call that may weaken a bid by the BJP’s Narendra Modi to lead the opposition bloc into the next elections.
The Janata Dal (United), which has 20 seats in the 545- member lower house of parliament and rules the eastern state of Bihar, also said the BJP should declare its choice for premier by the end of the year. The comments came today in a resolution after a meeting of its national executive in New Delhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s term ends in May 2014.
“Only a person who can carry with him all the diverse sections of people can become the leader of the nation,” said Nitish Kumar, a Janata Dal (United) leader who is among senior party figures opposing a Modi candidacy. “Some people think they will create a wave and people will accept it,” he told party members during the session.
The socialist Janata Dal is a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Coalition leaders such as Kumar, chief minister of Bihar, have expressed concern that the nomination of Modi may anger Muslims who accuse him of failing to stop riots that targeted their community in 2002 in Gujarat state, which Modi governs. More than 1,000 people died in the violence, most of them Muslims.
Ignoring the Janata Dal would put the BJP at risk of alienating an ally as it tries to end a decade in opposition. Other regional parties may rally behind Kumar.
“With this, Janata Dal has made it clear that they won’t support Modi’s candidature,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies. “Now, the BJP will move cautiously.” Today’s development is an indication that in the elections the regional parties will dictate the terms for any possible alliance, said Rao.
About 16 percent of Bihar’s population is Muslim, more than the national average of 13 percent. The Janata Dal governs Bihar with the BJP as its junior partner.
Modi was elevated to the BJP’s highest decision-making body this month, bolstering his stature amid jockeying to lead the party into the parliamentary polls. Modi’s third consecutive election victory in Gujarat, last year, and his high opinion- poll ratings have made him a favorite among party members.
Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, will take Singh’s Indian National Congress into the elections, although the party has yet to formally declare its choice for prime minister in the event of a victory by the ruling alliance that it leads. Gandhi, son of the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was appointed as his party’s vice president in January.
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