Controversial opposition politician Narendra Modi’s chances of becoming India’s next prime minister could get a major boost later Sunday when his party chooses its frontman for next year’s general elections.
Modi, chief minister of the thriving state of Gujarat for more than a decade, is expected to be named as head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election panel, despite opposition from some of his senior colleagues, according to local media reports.
The BJP, the main opposition in parliament, is holding a two-day national executive meeting in the coastal state of Goa to plan for national elections due by May next year.
But the crucial meet is being “boycotted” by some senior members including Lal Krishna Advani, the 85-year-old BJP veteran who mentored Modi.
Advani, who officials say is too sick to attend the meeting of some 300 party members, is now opposed to Modi’s elevation due to his allegedly arrogant behaviour.
Another senior leader, Uma Bharti, is staying away, citing illness. She had earlier expressed reluctance to support Modi as the prime ministerial candidate.
Despite the absence of such high-profile figures, local newspapers said the party “mood favours Modi”.
If Modi is made head of the Hindu nationalist party’s election campaign, he will be expected to canvass around the country, forge strategies to attack the centre-left ruling Congress party and build support for his candidacy as premier.
But the ghosts of anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat just over a decade ago could pose a stumbling block to Modi’s ambitions to lead India.
As many as 2,000 people — mainly Muslims — were killed during the month-long unrest, according to rights groups.
One of Modi’s former ministers was jailed for life for instigating the killings but several investigations have cleared the hardline politician of personal responsibility.
During the two-day meeting, Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar said Modi should become the BJP’s “face” for the next election, pointing to his “administrative capabilities” and “popularity”.
Some observers predict a showdown between Modi and Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has produced three Congress prime ministers since 1947.
The Congress faces an uphill battle to win a third straight term in power, amid a string of graft scandals and a slump in economic growth.