Narendra Modi slammed the government for failing to protect India’s borders with Pakistan and China in his first major speech since the main opposition party picked him as its candidate for prime minister.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s weak response to recent clashes has encouraged neighboring armies to encroach on Indian territory, Modi told an audience of former soldiers yesterday. The chief minister of western Gujarat state since 2001 will lead the country of 1.2 billion people if the Bharatiya Janata Party and its coalition partners form a government after polls that must be held by May, the party announced on Sept. 13.
“The problem is not at the border; the problem is in New Delhi,” Modi said in a speech in the state of Haryana, close to the nation’s capital. “Unless there is a capable government, patriotic government, there cannot be any guarantee of security.”
The opposition will push Modi’s record of delivering higher-than-average growth rates in Gujarat in a bid to unseat Singh after India’s $1.8 trillion economy expanded at the slowest pace in a decade and the rupee slumped to a record. The ruling Congress party is likely to attack Modi over 2002 riots in his state that killed about 1,000 Muslims.
Five Indian soldiers were killed on the disputed border with Pakistan last month in a flare-up of violence at the frontier separating the nuclear-armed neighbors. India also had a military standoff with China high in the Himalayas in April, triggering a three-week escalation in tensions.
“We are not hearing good news,” Modi said. “It has been a decade of despair, wrongdoing and negativity. We have lost hope.”
Opinion polls suggest a hung parliament once votes are counted. Singh’s Congress party appointed Rahul Gandhi, scion of the country’s foremost political dynasty, to lead its poll charge as it seeks to recover from three years of policy drift, coalition infighting and corruption allegations.
Singh’s ruling coalition may win 136 seats of the total 545 in the lower house of parliament, with Congress getting 119, a drop of 87 seats from the previous poll in 2009, a July survey by the Times Now television channel and C-Voter polling agency found. The opposition alliance could get 156 seats, with the BJP securing 131 of those or 15 more than the last ballot, the survey showed.
Modi has raised his national profile since winning a third term in Gujarat in December. The BJP appointed him to lead its election campaign, and he routinely addresses gatherings of business leaders and students.
To Modi’s followers, he’s a cult figure who dragged Gujarat from the ashes of the 2002 rioting, wooing businesses and cutting red tape and corruption. To opponents, he’s an autocrat who failed to control the attacks on Muslims by Hindu mobs or show enough remorse over the killings.
“Even if Modi has strong appeal among the corporate sector and middle class, he doesn’t enjoy that charm among large sections of the population,” said Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, an independent analyst who has covered politics for more than three decades. “His economic reforms in one state are not going to influence the bulk of the electorate.”
The 2002 carnage, which left Modi barred from entering some European nations, followed the killing of Hindu activists in a train fire, a blaze for which Muslims were later found guilty. Human rights groups accuse Modi of not doing enough to control the subsequent riots and exploiting religious divisions for political gain.
Modi denies any wrongdoing and a Supreme Court-appointed panel found no evidence that he took decisions to prevent assistance from reaching those being attacked.