NEW DELHI— India’s main opposition party has chosen one of the country’s most controversial politicians, Narendra Modi, to lead it in national elections next year. This boosts his chances of becoming prime minister, if the party wins. But the choice of the Hindu nationalist leader has exposed deep rifts within his party.
Speaking to party members after his election as head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) poll campaign committee, Narendra Modi vowed to defeat the ruling Congress Party, which has headed a coalition government since 2004.
Modi said the party's aim should be to free India of Congress Party rule. He said, if this can happen all problems will be solved.
India is to hold elections by next spring. And, as the race between the country’s two main parties - the Hindu nationalist BJP and the Congress Party starts taking shape - Modi has become one of India’s most closely-watched politicians.
Modi rules the western Gujarat state. His appointment Sunday to the national campaign committee has put the regional leader within reach of the prime minister’s job, if he can secure a victory for his party.
But that has exposed deep rifts within the BJP. A day after Modi was elected, a top BJP leader, Lal Krishna Advani, quit several key party posts, raising fears of turmoil within the party.
Independent political analyst Ajoy Bose in New Delhi said, although Modi is seen as a man who will revitalize the party, many top leaders fear being sidelined.
“They expect him to energize the party and carry it forward and give it a new direction. The party has been flagging a bit over the past several years. But, on the other hand, the senior leadership are a little uneasy because Modi is the kind of domineering leader who has very little time for other senior leaders," Bose said. "Modi would definitely take BJP toward a personality-oriented party.”
Modi has received praise for expediting development in his Gujarat state and turning it into an economic powerhouse.
However, his rule has been blotted by his failure to stop deadly anti-Muslim riots that killed more than 1,000 people in 2002. This has raised concerns that Modi may find it difficult to win the support of voters and regional parties in key political states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where Muslims make up a sizeable part of the population.
In the past year, the fiery Hindu nationalist leader has tried to project the image of a no-nonsense man who can deliver good governance and rescue India’s faltering economy.
Recent polls indicate Modi’s strongest supporters are India’s urban, middle classes, who are looking for an alternative to the scandal-ridden Congress Party and calling for cleaner governance. But political analyst Bose said this message may not resonate in the heartland of India.
“He has tried, in the recent past, to plug the development mantra and showcase the kind of high growth rates in Gujarat. But the BJP is consistently non-existent in many parts of India. So Modi maybe doing a great job among the social media audience across India, but the electorate is a much bigger constituency. And, these are areas where Modi does not really strike anywhere,” stated Bose.
However, as Modi becomes the front runner in the BJP, worries are rising in the Congress party, whose image has been badly tarnished by a series of corruption scandals during its second term in office. It has also received flak for a policy paralysis that has led India’s economy to slump to its slowest in a decade.
Political analysts said support for the Congress party is slipping, but it remains to be seen if Modi can convert public disillusionment with the ruling party into gains for his party.