Modi Takes Agenda to Former Marxist Bastion in Bid to Lead India

Narendra Modi took his free-market economic ideology to a former bastion of communism where he pilloried India’s national government that he said had run out of ideas and was ruining the economy.

In a speech in Kolkata, his third high-profile address in two days, the man who’s emerging as the the most likely prime ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of next year’s election, criticized the governing Congress party over its failure to check inflation, lift farm growth and boost power supply. Misrule meant people remain hungry while food rots in nearby warehouses, he said today.

“The situation can be changed,” Modi, the 62-year-old chief minister of Gujarat, told the city’s business community. The federal government’s “machinery is at a standstill” and it is on “borrowed time,” he said in West Bengal, which was ruled by Marxist parties for 34 years until 2011.

While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is struggling to turn around an economy growing at its weakest pace in a decade, Modi’s government in Gujarat has been hailed by investors including Tata Group’s former chairman Ratan Tata, and billionaire Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) Expansion in the province has averaged 10 percent under Modi.

Gujarat has raised power generation capacity more than fivefold, while the government says it is the only state in India to have surplus electricity. Its success in improving health and education indicators has lagged behind other states.

‘Radical Solutions’

Still, some of the BJP’s allies may oppose any move to project Modi as a prime ministerial candidate on concern the decision may antagonize Muslim voters who accuse him of failing to stop riots in Gujarat in 2002 that targeted the community and left more than 1,000 people dead.

Modi was elevated to BJP’s highest decision-making body this month, bolstering his stature amid jockeying to lead the party into the poll scheduled for May next year. While the BJP has yet to declare its candidate for premier, Modi’s third consecutive election victory in Gujarat and his high opinion poll ratings have made him a favorite among party members.

“Modi has what it takes to lead the country because he has practical and radical solutions to problems,” Deepak Jalan, the managing director of Linc Pen & Plastics Ltd., who was in the audience in Kolkata said in an interview after the speech. “He seems to be the best leader to face the challenges.”

Speaking at two events in New Delhi yesterday, Modi pitched for more reforms to the economy, simpler rules for investors, the decentralization of power and privatization of state-owned companies.

Gandhi Beehive

Modi’s speeches highlighting the image of an able administrator are being seen as an attempt to draw a contrast with Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family that heads Congress. Gandhi, who was appointed as his party’s vice president in January, will lead its campaign for the parliamentary polls.

In his first major public speech to business leaders, Gandhi, 42, the son of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, talked last week about the need to bring the poor and marginalized into the political process. Referring to India as a beehive buzzing with energy, Gandhi dismissed the idea that one person could transform India, an apparent reference to the momentum building behind Modi.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net; Pradipta Mukherjee in Kolkata at pmukherjee7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hari Govind at hgovind@bloomberg.net

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