x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Narendra Modi 'not secular enough' for PM

Battle over candidate to contest India's May poll could cause coalition turmoil.

India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Narendra Modi is not seen as secular due to his actions during anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat.
India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Narendra Modi is not seen as secular due to his actions during anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat.

NEW DELHI // The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rejected pressure from its biggest alliance partner over the bloc's choice of candidate for prime minister, widening a rift sparked by the growing clout of Narendra Modi.

The party said yesterday it was "unfortunate" that its allies were concentrating their energies on criticising BJP leaders instead of focusing on the battle to oust the government of the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, in elections to be held by May next year.

"Unfounded interference" in BJP decision-making was not welcome, it said. The comments were a rebuke to leaders of the Janata Dal (United) party who after a weekend meeting said the National Democratic Alliance's pick for premier should have a secular image. That was seen as a rejection of Mr Modi for his actions during anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat state, which he has governed since 2001.

Mr Modi was elevated to the BJP's highest decision-making body this month, bolstering his stature amid jockeying to lead the party and the alliance into the parliamentary polls. He has since made a string of high-profile speeches and been praised by the party chief, Rajnath Singh.

Janata Dal, which has 20 seats in the 545-member lower house of parliament and rules Bihar state, said on Sunday in a resolution after a meeting of its national executive in New Delhi that the BJP should declare its choice for premier by the end of the year.

The leaders of the socialist Janata Dal, including the chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, have concerns that the nomination of Mr Modi may anger Muslims who accuse him of failing to stop the riots that targeted their community in 2002. More than 1,000 people died in the violence, most of them Muslims.

Ignoring the Janata Dal would put the BJP at risk of alienating an ally as it tries to end a decade in opposition. Other regional parties may rally behind Mr Kumar.

"With this, Janata Dal has made it clear that they won't support Modi's candidature," said N Bhaskara Rao, the chairman of the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies. "Now, the BJP will move cautiously."

The development is an indication that in the elections the regional parties will dictate the terms for any possible alliance, said Mr Rao.

Mr Modi's third consecutive election victory in Gujarat, last year, and his high opinion-poll ratings have made him a favourite among party members.

"Compromises are made in politics but there are certain fundamental principles," Mr Kumar told party members on Sunday. "Compromising with secularism to remain in power, no we will never do it."