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Hindu party leadership debate hots up

Narendra Modi emerges as the BJP's main hope

Hindu party leadership debate hots up
Supporters wear Modi masks at a rally (file photo)
Swati Deb and Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

March 6, 2013

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Political debate and speculation on who will lead India's pro-Hindu party and become its prime ministerial candidate are heating up in the run-up to the nation's parliamentary elections.

A three-day meeting between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP- Indian People’s Party) members that ended on Sunday reportedly did not object to projecting Narendra Modi, its most controversial politician, as its prime ministerial candidate for elections due to take place by next year.

Modi won the Gujarat state election for the third consecutive time in December to remain chief minister. Although accused of tacitly promoting deadly 2002 anti-Muslim violence in the state, he is projected as a leader pushing for development in Gujarat, his stronghold.

“By refusing to be defeated he had in a sense emerged a winner long before the battle was over,” said Nirendra Dev, a New Delhi-based journalist and author of the book Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth.

The BJP, the political arm of nationalist Hindu groups that some say are working to turn India into a Hindu theocratic state, has been projecting Modi as national leader for some time.

"Modi provides fine syntheses of national pride, Hindutva philosophy and the developmental trump card," Dev said.

“None of his rivals in the BJP and outside have these lethal combinations from an electoral point of politics,” he added.

Senior BJP figure and one of the few from Modi’s inner circle, Arun Jaitley, says there is a “groundswell of support” for Modi now. The recent party meeting was testimony to that.

Reports say that the 2,200 delegates at the national executive meeting demanded a “bigger role" for Modi.

“There is no doubt he is a capable leader. Importantly, Modi is the best crowd puller we have since the time of former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee,” BJP leader N. Singh Tomar from Madhya Pradesh told

However, social activists and leaders from other political parties do not share the same optimism.

“Modi just does not have national stature,” said Rajiv Shukla, Congress Party leader and junior federal minister for Parliamentary Affairs.

The blemish of the 2002 anti-Muslim riots "remains and is still relevant," Communist Party leader D Raja told Some 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in what many call state-sponsored violence under Modi.

According to Raja the emergence of Modi shows the “fast decline” of the Congress leadership and the authority of the federal government.

The Congress-led federal government has failed to check inflation and has been embroiled in several high-profile corruption scandals, he said.

“There is a vacuum and BJP, as the single largest party, has been able to exploit it,” he added.

Modi’s detractors, such as Deepak Babaria, a senior Congress politician from Gujarat, say the chief minister is being blown out of proportion and that he is not that able an administrator.

“Modi is a smart manipulator and created a smokescreen about development in Gujarat,” he said.

Social activist Father Cedric Prakash, who is based in Gujarat, says Modi’s emergence has been a media creation that focuses only on good things about him.

“Who will vote for a person who is totally dictatorial as head of the country,” he said, adding that Modi as premier would have a serious and negative impact on religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims, he added.

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