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BJP names Narendra Modi as PM candidate for 2014 polls

Supporters believe he has the drive needed to salvage a sagging economy and make India a regional superpower. Detractors see an authoritarian extremist who could fan sectarian tension.

twitter-logo Reuters   New Delhi     Last Updated: September 13, 2013  | 21:18 IST
Gujarat chief minister and BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi
Gujarat chief minister and BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. PHOTO: AP

Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi was on Friday crowned as the candidate for prime minister of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India's main opposition party, cementing the remarkable rise of a leader adored by business but tainted by deadly religious riots that broke out on his watch.

On a path that from humble roots as the son of a tea-shop owner to running for leadership of the world's biggest democracy, Modi has methodically built a fervent fan base.

But, a deeply polarising figure, he has made many enemies along the way, even within BJP.

Supporters believe he has the drive needed to salvage a sagging economy and make India a regional superpower. Detractors see an authoritarian extremist who could fan sectarian tension in the religiously diverse nation.

India is due to hold its largest-ever general election within eight months.

Modi's elevation means the poll will pit the business-friendly chief minister of Gujarat state against the centre-left Congress party, which critics say looks jaded after a decade at the head of a fractious ruling coalition.

Modi's success at chaperoning Gujarat's economic growth was for years overshadowed by religious riots just months after he took office in 2002. At least 1,000 people died in the violence, most of them Muslims at the hands of Hindu mobs.

FROM OUR ARCHIVES:The challenges before Narendra Modi

A crowd of jubilant Modi supporters gathered outside the BJP's headquarters in New Delhi ahead of the formal decision to name him the party's candidate for prime minister, dancing, setting off firecrackers and handing out sweets.

BJP president Rajnath Singh made the announcement in a brief statement to journalists.

"I will work hard to achieve victory for the BJP in 2014 elections," Modi said afterwards, describing himself as a "small party worker" from a small town.

Modi, anointed as candidate just days before his 63rd birthday, is known for rousing speeches and biting attacks on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that leads the Congress party. The government's final years have been tarnished by graft scandals and the poor performance of Asia's third-largest economy.

Modi's main opponent may be Rahul Gandhi, an establishment insider who represents the fourth generation of a dynasty that has governed India for more than two-thirds of the 66 years since independence from Britain in 1947.

Gandhi's late father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers. By comparison, Modi is a self-made success who has presided over a decade of double-digit growth in Gujarat, bolstering a thriving manufacturing sector and earning a reputation as efficient administrator who speaks the language of business.

Gandhi sought to diminish Modi's achievements at a rally this week, contrasting the Congress party's welfare programmes for farmers and the poor with Modi's business focus.

FROM OUR ARCHIVES:How vibrant is Gujarat's growth story?

"The opposition says that infrastructure of roads, airports, bridges is needed to take the country forward. These alone can't take the country ahead unless those who work to make these are taken care of too," Gandhi said.

Carmakers Ford, Maruti Suzuki and Tata Motors have been drawn to Gujarat which, unusually in India, enjoys regular electricity supplies and smooth roads.

"The Indian stock market's greatest hope ... is the emergence of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate," Christopher Wood, chief equity strategist at CLSA Asia Pacific Markets told a leading business daily this week.

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