India’s main opposition Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has named a controversial Hindu ideologue, Narendra Modi, as its candidate for prime minister if it wins national elections next year.
In his acceptance speech, Modi promised to do his best to earn public support to win power from the scandal-ridden Congress party, which has been in power for nine years.
He has been Chief Minister of western Gujarat state for the past 11 years and has been accused of doing little to stop anti-Muslim riots in the state in 2002 which left more than 1,000 dead.
On February 2002, a train fire in Gujarat killed 60 Hindu pilgrims. Muslims were blamed for the fire and weeks of rioting followed. No evidence directly links Modi to the violence and he says he has no responsibility for the killings.
Modi’s name was announced by BJP President Rajnath Singh after a meeting of party lawmakers.
It was preceded by efforts by party leaders to win an endorsement for Modi from Lal Krishna Advani, 85, the most senior party leader.
Advani stayed away from the lawmakers’ meeting, apparently to show his opposition to the elevation of Modi, indicating a division within the party over Modi’s role.
Modi, 62, is likely to challenge Rahul Gandhi, the heir to India’s Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, who is widely expected to lead the ruling Congress party in the campaign.
Gandhi was elevated to the Congress party’s No. 2 position early this year behind his mother Sonia Gandhi, who is its president.
Several BJP leaders have previously said that they fear the party will fare badly in the national elections because of Modi’s polarising image.
The Congress party on Friday declined to comment. “We don’t want to say anything on the internal affairs of another political party,” said Kapil Sibal, a senior Congress leader and federal telecom minister.
The Congress party has been badly battered over the past year or so by a series of corruption scandals, bitter internal feuding, and an inability to deal with a stumbling economy and deep-rooted problems with poverty, infrastructure and education.