India’s BJP Elevates Modi to Top Party Panel Before Polls

India’s Bharatiya Janata Party reappointed Narendra Modi to its highest decision making body after a gap of six years, bolstering his stature amid jockeying to lead the party into a general election due next year.

The party’s President Rajnath Singh yesterday inducted Modi into the 12-member parliamentary board, according to the party’s website, less than two weeks after a key ally of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ruling coalition walked out of his government. While the BJP has yet to declare its prime ministerial candidate, Modi’s third consecutive election victory in the western state of Gujarat has made him a favorite among some BJP members.

“It’s an elevation for Modi and a boost to his prime ministerial ambition,” said Sanjay Kumar, an analyst at New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. “It’s a signal that BJP is ready to give him an important role at the national level.”

While Singh’s federal administration 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.

Gujarat Growth

Gujarat’s economy has grown an annual 10.2 percent on average over the last decade, against 7.8 percent for the national economy. Under Modi, Gujarat has raised power generation capacity more than fivefold, while his 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.

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.

At least 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, died in the brutal rioting as Hindu mobs rampaged through neighborhoods. The violence was sparked by a blaze on a train in the state that left 59 Hindu pilgrims dead, an inferno courts subsequently found Muslims guilty of starting. Modi’s administration said it did its best to maintain law and order during the rioting.

“Becoming a member of the parliamentary board is a reflection of the stature of Modi within the party, but it in no way indicates that he has crossed the bridge to be able to become prime ministerial candidate,” said Sandeep Shastri, pro-vice chancellor of Jain University in Bangalore. “He will have to become the rallying point to bring together people within the BJP” and its allies.

Singh’s Congress party-led coalition is now as many as 44 seats short of a majority after the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a southern Tamil party, pulled out last month, leaving him reliant on support from two regional rivals.

The chief of one of them, the Samajwadi Party, told a television channel about a week ago that he is ready to face elections any time, and October would be ideal for his party.

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