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Wednesday 16 April 2014

Modi named candidate for India PM

Supporters of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate after Narendra Modi was announced as the party's prime minster candidate for the 2014 polls (AP)

India's main opposition Hindu nationalist party has named a controversial regional chief as its candidate for prime minister if it wins national elections next year.

Narendra 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. Mr Gandhi was elevated to the Congress party's No 2 position early this year behind his mother Sonia Gandhi, who is its president.

Mr Modi, chief minister of western Gujarat state for the past 11 years, 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 27, 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 Mr Modi to the violence and he says he has no responsibility for the killings.

Mr Modi promised in his acceptance speech 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.

His name was announced by Bharatiya Janata Party President Rajnath Singh after a meeting of party members. It was preceded by efforts by party leaders to win an endorsement for Mr Modi from Lal Krishna Advani, 85, the most senior party leader.

Mr Advani stayed away from the meeting, apparently to show his opposition to the promotion of Mr Modi.

Several BJP leaders have previously said that they fear the party will fare badly in the national elections because of Mr Modi's divisive image.

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.

Manmohan Singh, a technocrat, was chosen to fill the prime minister's seat in 2004 by Sonia Gandhi, the widow of assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. But he has been widely seen as a regent, keeping the seat warm until Rahul Gandhi was ready to take what some see as his birthright.

Press Association

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