Narendra Modi, the controversial chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat, has been appointed to head the 2014 electoral campaign of India's largest oppositon party BJP.
For his supporters, the chief minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi is a reformer and man of action who should be India's next prime minister. But for his critics, Modi is a criminal, complicit in the gruesome 2002 communal riots in the state of Gujarat in which some 2,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims.
The 62-year-old Hindu nationalist leader, who won a landslide victory in last year's state elections, has now been appointed to head the 2014 campaign of India's main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the 2014 parliamentary elections. His designation means that he is likely to be the BJP candidate for the post of prime minister.
The BJP's decision to bring Modi to the national political scene came during the party's three-day national conference in Panaji, the capital of the western state Goa on Sunday, June 9.
A divisive decision
After his victory in Gujarat last December, Modi emerged as a political figure keen on playing a national role.
"The BJP needs to prepare for the elections and Modi is the best person to lead the party as he is the most popular chief minister in India," BJP president Rajnath Singh told the press.
But not everybody in the BJP agrees with Singh. Experts say that there are divisions in the party regarding Modi's appointment. Senior BJP leader L. K. Advani, who did not attend the Goa meeting, resigned from all top party posts accusing the BJP leaders of being "concerned only with their personal agenda."
"For some time, I have been finding it difficult to reconcile either with party's functioning, or the direction in which it has been going," Advani said in his resignation letter.
Even the BJP's key ally, the Janata Dal (United), which is opposed to Modi's projection as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, is contemplating separation from the BJP.
"We have observed the developments and have taken note of them. We will discuss the issue in the party. We will announce our decision after evaluating the entire situation," Nitish Kumar, Janata Dal's leader and chief minister of the northern Bihar state, told DW.
Raghav Kapoor, a BJP supporter, says Modi is disliked not only by secular Indians but also by his own party loyalists. "His appointment will have a huge impact on the BJP's performance in the 2014 national elections," Kapoor told DW.
Not easy to ignore
Modi has always refused to apologize to the Muslim community for his inability to stop the 2002 massacre. Most Indian Muslims and secular Hindus do not deem Modi fit to rule India. Many secular Indians consider the ruling Indian National Congress's leader Rahul Gandhi a better option than Modi and are more likely to vote for him in the elections.
"The consensus is that the 2002 riots benefited Modi politically and that he became what he is today because of the fallout of the carnage," Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author of ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times' told DW in an interview.
Despite this, Modi just can't be ignored. Gujarat has become a model state under his leadership showing growth rates of 10 percent and above.
Earlier this year, the European Union re-established relations with Modi after cutting them off for more than a decade. EU diplomats had been showing Modi the cold shoulder ever since the Gujarat massacre but with the economic success of Gujarat, it has become difficult for Europe to ignore the controversial politician.
It remains to be seen which factor will have the biggest impact on the BJP's electoral performance next year: the Gujarat riots or Modi's economic success.