Modi’s Prominence Triggers Row in India’s Opposition Alliance

India’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party rejected pressure from its biggest alliance partner over the bloc’s choice of candidate for prime minister, widening a rift sparked by the growing clout of Narendra Modi.

In a statement, the party said it was “unfortunate” that its allies were concentrating their energies on criticizing BJP leaders instead of focusing on the battle to oust the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in elections due to be held by May next year. “Unfounded interference” in BJP decision-making wasn’t welcome, it said.

The comments were a rebuke to leaders of the Janata Dal (United) party who after a weekend meeting said the National Democratic Alliance’s pick for premier should have a secular image. That was seen as a rejection of Modi for his actions during anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat state, which he has governed since 2001.

Modi was elevated to the BJP’s highest decision-making body this month, bolstering his stature amid jockeying to lead the party and the NDA into the parliamentary polls. He has since made a string of high-profile speeches and been praised by party chief Rajnath Singh.

The Janata Dal (United), which has 20 seats in the 545-member lower house of parliament and rules the eastern state of Bihar, said yesterday in a resolution after a meeting of its national executive in New Delhi that the BJP should declare its choice for premier by the end of the year.

Battle Lines

The leaders of the socialist Janata Dal, including chief minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar, have concerns that the nomination of Modi may anger Muslims who accuse him of failing to stop the riots that targeted their community in 2002. More than 1,000 people died in the violence, most of them Muslims.

Ignoring the Janata Dal would put the BJP at risk of alienating an ally as it tries to end a decade in opposition. Other regional parties may rally behind Kumar.

“With this, Janata Dal has made it clear that they won’t support Modi’s candidature,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies. “Now, the BJP will move cautiously.” Yesterday’s development is an indication that in the elections the regional parties will dictate the terms for any possible alliance, said Rao.

Modi’s third consecutive election victory in Gujarat, last year, and his high opinion-poll ratings have made him a favorite among party members.

“Compromises are made in politics but there are certain fundamental principles,” Kumar told party members yesterday. “Compromising with secularism to remain in power, no we will never do it.”

Gandhi Campaign

About 16 percent of Bihar’s population is Muslim, more than the national average of 13 percent. The Janata Dal governs Bihar with the BJP as its junior partner.

Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, will take Singh’s Indian National Congress into the elections, although the party has yet to formally declare its choice for prime minister in the event of a victory by the ruling alliance that it leads. Gandhi, son of the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was appointed as his party’s vice president in January.

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