Modi, chief minister of western Gujarat state which was wracked by communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in 2002, will campaign in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh from Sunday, a BJP official said.

  

"Yes, he is coming here. We will take a decision (later) on the constituencies where he will be campaigning," said Hridaynarayan Dixit, the BJP's Uttar Pradesh spokesman.

  

Modi has a huge following among Hindu hardliners and was seen as a key figure in helping the BJP win crucial state elections last year, including in Gujarat.

  

His government has been accused of turning a blind eye to the riots in his state in which nearly 2,000 people died, mostly Muslims.

 

Surprise

  

Political analysts said they were surprised at the BJP's decision to field Modi as its leaders have been trying to court Muslims, who make up 20% of Uttar Pradesh's population.

  

"It is a new political morality and a sign that spin doctoring is entering India"

Yogendra Yadav,
political expert

"He will probably be used very strategically in specific political constituencies. It is a daring move to think that you can woo the Muslims and at the same time get Modi to campaign," said political expert Yogendra Yadav.

  

"It is a new political morality and a sign that spin doctoring is entering India. I don't know whether it will be rewarding," he added.

  

The Hindustan Times newspaper said that the move was aimed at unifying the majority Hindu population's vote for the BJP, while at the same time fielding more moderate leaders, such as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, to reach out to Muslims.

  

With Uttar Pradesh boasting 80 political constituencies, the BJP has thrown its entire top rung of leadership into the campaign trail in the state ahead of the two remaining rounds of polls on 5 and 10 May.

  

The five-phased poll began on 20 April. Results are expected on 13 May.