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Controversial Indian minister to lead election campaign

Choice of Modi may inflame religious tensions

Controversial Indian minister to lead election campaign

Narendra Modi, who will lead the BJP in next year's elections

Swati Deb, New Delhi

June 11, 2013

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India's Hindu hardline nationalist party has appointed a controversial politician to lead its campaign for next year's general elections, but many fear this will amplify religious conflict across the country.

Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujurat, was chosen on Sunday to lead the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP - Indian People’s Party) in its campaign for parliamentary seats. Its main rival is the ruling Congress party-led coalition.

Modi is seen as one of India’s most polarizing politicians, and has been criticized for his often aggressive nationalist rhetoric and his questionable commitment to secularism in Indian politics. His handling of the 2002 Gujarat riots, which largely pitted Muslim against Hindu, and which triggered an aggressive crackdown, including shoot-on-sight orders, drew heavy flak.

“Modi’s elevation has made things clear that both sides, the BJP and the Congress, will now play their respective communal brand of politics,” parliamentarian Shailendra Kumar told

The appointment nudges Modi closer to becoming the party’s candidate for the prime ministerial post, despite strong opposition from his detractors in the BJP. His main rival, L.K. Advani, who was at one point the party’s main candidate for prime minister, resigned yesterday, citing disillusionment.

Party president Rajnath Singh said Modi’s appointment was done "keeping in mind the challenge of the 2014 Lok Sabha [lower house] elections and to achieve victory in the polls."

The move however has caused consternation among observers. “We liberals should be concerned and worried about the manner they are leading the politics towards,” said Professor Kamal Kabra of the Institute of Social Science. “Only recently Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged the increase in the amount of communal and sectarian violence in the country in the last one and a half years.”

Modi’s economic record in Gujarat, which boasts faster growth than the national average, has emboldened his support among the citizenry in the western state. Political commentator Harijai Singh told that Modi enjoys popularity among youths, the urban middle class, hardcore Hindutva supporters and the business community.

Still, however, millions in Gujarat remain in poverty, and his perceived attempts to make Gujarat into a Hindu state means he remains a heavily divisive figure.

Rights activists, such as Jesuit Father Cedrick Praksh, said Modi’s appointment is "bad for the nation." He said that Modi was being backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS—National Volunteer Corps), a right-wing Hindu nationalist group.

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