NEW DELHI (AFP) – India's main opposition party was expected Friday to announce hardline Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for elections next year, overriding concerns about his polarising character.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may declare Narendra Modi, chief minister of economically thriving Gujarat state, as its frontrunner for the post of premier in the national elections due by May 2014.
"There is nothing official about the announcement yet," BJP spokeswoman Nirmala Sitaraman told AFP.
"But yes, everyone is looking at Mr. Modi more than the BJP now. There is a groundswell of support for his leadership. People want an announcement," Sitaraman said.
Indian newspapers widely forecast that the decision would come on Friday afternoon.
In June, Modi, popularly known as "NaMo", was selected to head the BJP's campaign in the 2014 elections, a move that saw senior leader L.K. Advani resign from top party posts in protest.
The Hindu-nationalist BJP has been fractured by squabbling among its leaders, with several fearing Modi being too divisive a figure who could deter voters from minority religions, particularly Muslims.
Modi, 62, has sought to paint himself as a pro-business reformist who could revive Asia's third-largest economy, which is growing at its slowest rate in a decade and is struggling with a currency at near record lows.
Though the market-friendly leader has been popular with the corporate world, he remains tarred by the Gujarat riots in 2002, in which as many as 2,000 people were killed, mainly Muslims, according to rights groups.
Modi denied any wrongdoing, but one of his former ministers was jailed last year for orchestrating some of the violence and the Supreme Court once likened him to Nero, the emperor who fiddled while Rome burned.
Rahul Gandhi, 43, who is some two decades younger than Modi and heir to India's most powerful political dynasty, has been groomed by the Congress party to take over the reins from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
But he remains reluctant to be pushed to the fore and doubts remain about his ability and hunger for the job.
The Congress-led government is lagging badly in the polls, its popularity sapped by the economic downturn and a slew of corruption scandals.