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Indian Opposition Leader's Win in Gujarat Sets Stage for National Run

  • Anjana Pasricha

Narendra Modi, chief minister for Gujarat state, greets supporters during the celebrations of Gujarat assembly elections in Ahmadabad, India, Dec. 20, 2012.

Narendra Modi, chief minister for Gujarat state, greets supporters during the celebrations of Gujarat assembly elections in Ahmadabad, India, Dec. 20, 2012.

In India’s western state of Gujarat, the opposition Hindu Nationalist Party is set to win a sweeping, fifth consecutive victory in state-wide elections.

The victory could help the state’s controversial leader, Nerendra Modi, emerge as a prime ministerial candidate, despite accusations that he failed to control deadly Hindu-Muslim riots a decade ago.

Gujarat has been a stronghold of the opposition of the Bharatiya Janata Party for a long time. But the latest convincing victory in state-wide elections is credited to Modi, who has governed the state since 2001. Prakash Javedkar is a spokesperson for the BJP.

“It is the fifth consecutive victory which we are celebrating in Gujarat," he said. "Victory of mixture of good leadership, good governance and good organization.”

Modi’s victory was widely expected in a state that has become an economic powerhouse under his watch. He is credited with rooting out corruption, building infrastructure and creating a business-friendly environment. That is in stark contrast to many others parts of the country, where graft and lack of governance have set back the economy.

However, Modi remains one of the country’s most controversial leaders, because he is blamed for not doing enough to control riots in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. His critics accuse him of being anti-Muslim and fear he is a divisive leader in a secular country. Modi denies the accusation.

Several Western countries have treated him as a pariah. The United States has denied him a visa for his alleged role in the 2002 riots.

But, as Modi grows in prominence, and as his state emerges as a magnet for international investors, some are reversing their stand. For example, Britain recently ended a 10-year boycott of the controversial leader.

Some political analysts say Modi’s victory will catapult him to the national stage, where he could emerge as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in national elections in 2014. They say he is admired for spurring development in Gujarat and is seen as a strong leader in a country where the ruling Congress Party has been widely criticized for weak leadership.

Political analyst Tavleen Singh told local media the country is looking for a leader like Modi.

“We need somebody who is going to say, 'Listen, what this country needs desperately is development' and Modi has shown that in his Gujarat model, that works,” Singh said.

Although the ruling Congress Party was disappointed in Gujarat, it is set to win a smaller state, Himachal Pradesh, in the north. State elections are being keenly tracked in India because of their likely impact on the next national elections.

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