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Last Updated: Friday, 7 December 2007, 10:08 GMT
Can love-hate figure of India win again?
The most controversial man in Indian politics, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, is hoping to be re-elected this month. The BBC's Geeta Pandey is following his campaign.

Narendra Modi at an election meeting in Gujarat
Mr Modi faces dissension in his own party
At an election rally in Kathlal in the western Indian state of Gujarat, chief minister Narendra Modi lists his achievements.

"I have worked for the development of Gujarat. I have brought water from the Narmada river to your homes. I have built many schools for your children," he says.

The 3,000-odd supporters have been waiting for him for almost three hours. The little square in the market is chock-a-block and people have taken up places on balconies and rooftops too.

"You have the history of 45 years of misrule by the [opposition] Congress party. They question what I have done for the people. But I've been here only seven years. Now tell me, what did they do when they were in power?," he asks.

11 December - voting
16 December - voting
23 December - results declared

The audiences cheer him wildly.

"Do you want Narendra Modi to be your chief minister again," he asks?

"Yes!" the response is loud and clear.

"Then vote for my candidate, vote for the lotus," he says. The flower is his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s election symbol.

Controversial figure

The rally ends quickly, but for Mr Modi's supporters, the three-hour-long wait is worth it.

"Everyone wants him to win," says one supporter. "In the last election, five years ago, Bharatiya Janata Party got 128 seats. This time we'll get 150 seats. Mr Modi has done lots for the development of the state, he's also destroyed terrorism."

The Modi government is known for corruption
Kanjibhai, village headman

Hitesh Joshi, a Kathlal resident says, "Modi is our pride. Congress cannot beat him. No force in the world can defeat him."

The chief minister is a controversial figure and is loved and hated in equal measure.

A big blot on his record came five years ago when more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in riots in the state. Violence broke out after nearly 60 Hindus died in a train which was allegedly set on fire by a Muslim mob.

Critics alleged that, at the very least, Mr Modi did not act fast enough to stem the riots.

The violence polarised the voters along the religious lines and in the state where 90% of the residents are Hindus, Mr Modi swept to victory in the last assembly elections held a few months after the riots.

The chief minister had another setback two years ago when the US government rejected his visa application citing alleged "violation of religious freedom".

In the absence of any such emotional issue this time round, Mr Modi himself has become the central issue.

Party rebellion

Everyone - even those who do not support him - admits that he has worked for Gujarat's development.

All the 18,000 villages in the state now have electricity. He has brought tap water to every home and Gujarat has world-class roads.

Mr Modi is known for his investor-friendly policies and has managed to bring in projects worth billions of dollars to the state.

So you might think this election would be a cakewalk.

Mr Modi's supporters wearing masks of the chief minister at an election rally
People say Mr Modi has worked for Gujarat's development

But, analysts say Mr Modi's ride is unlikely to be so smooth.

For one, he's facing serious dissensions within his party.

"His biggest challenge comes not from outside, but from within his own party," says political observer Vishnu Pandya.

One of the rebels is senior party leader and former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, who says his party has only a "50% chance" of winning the polls.

"One million people in Gujarat are dying of hunger, hundreds of thousands of people are jobless," he says of Mr Modi's regime.

Also, other hardline Hindu organisations have refused to support Mr Modi because he is perceived to be riding roughshod over them and not listening to them.

Analyst Vishnu Pandya says Mr Modi has antagonised many people because "he's arrogant, he likes controversies and he creates new ones every day".

This week, for example, Mr Modi's controversial comments on the killing of a Muslim man, Sohrabuddin Sheikh, by Gujarat police have dominated news in India and provoked the Election Commission to seek an explanation.

Evenly divided

Many observers believe that Mr Modi still has an edge over his rivals.

The rival Congress Party, until recently thought to be lagging far behind Mr Modi, seems to be catching up though.

Party chief Sonia Gandhi's election meetings have attracted good crowds. She criticises the Modi government for following a policy of lopsided development.

"The BJP has ignored the common man. The rich are getting richer here, while the poor are getting poorer," she says.

Riots in Ahmedabad, Gujarat in 2002
The religious riots in 2002 were a blot on Mr Modi's record

Some supporters are now even talking of a Congress victory in the state.

Shopkeeper Kamleshbhai Chotai in Rajkot town's bustling vegetable market says, "Earlier we thought BJP was going to win, but now it seems that Congress may win."

Kanjibhai, a village headman in Dhanaun village, echoes a similar sentiment.

"The Modi government is known for corruption, he talks about development. But look at our badly broken roads. We have water shortage too, and electricity supply is erratic. We will vote for the Congress," he says.

Voting will be held on 11 and 16 December. The results should be declared on 23 December when Mr Modi's political fate will become clear.

Fury over Gujarat leader speech
06 Dec 07 |  South Asia
Gujarat police face murder charge
24 Apr 07 |  South Asia
Gujarat admits wrongful killing
23 Mar 07 |  South Asia

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