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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 December 2007, 21:37 GMT
Profile: Narendra Modi
Few politicians have done so much to polarise Indian public opinion in recent years as Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Narendra Modi
Many Gujaratis have applauded Mr Modi on the economy

Mr Modi has been referred to by some critics as the merchant of death.

He hit the headlines in 2002, when he was accused of failing to halt some of the worst religious violence India has ever seen.

Riots erupted after dozens of Hindu pilgrims were killed in a train fire in the town of Godhra.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the ensuing violence.

His opponents say he indirectly egged on Hindu mobs who are believed to have led most of the attacks.

His supporters say he could have done little under the circumstances to prevent the violence.

But since then, Mr Modi has been seen as the face of militant Hinduism.

He may polarise public opinion in India but he has also been credited for bringing prosperity and development to Gujarat.

A lover of expensive clothes, he is considered to be business friendly.

The state's economy has been growing at more than 10% a year, significantly above the national average, and many Gujaratis are feeling wealthier.

But while those who have benefited during his time as chief minister will applaud his re-election, for the victims of the 2002 riots, a victory for Mr Modi is likely to be just one more symbol of injustice.

RSS role

When Mr Modi was re-elected state chief minister in December 2002 his biggest gains were in areas of intercommunal violence.

During those elections he campaigned openly on a platform of hardline Hinduism.

The Gujarat riots of 2002
The Gujarat riots of 2002 left about 1,000 people dead

Analysts say the reason why the chief minister remains relatively unscathed is the strong support he enjoys among senior leaders in the right-wing Hindu organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The RSS, founded in the 1920s with a clear objective to make India a Hindu nation, functions as an ideological fountainhead to a whole host of hardline Hindu groups - including the BJP with which it has close ties.

The RSS has a particularly strong base in Gujarat and Mr Modi's ties to it were seen as a strength the organisation could tap when he joined the state unit of the BJP in the 1980s.

Mr Modi reportedly married a woman working as a teacher in a poor Muslim area about 100km (60 miles) from Gujarat's commercial capital, Ahmedabad.

But his official biography makes no mention of it.

Critics say the omission is in keeping with the value that RSS traditionalists place on a life of bachelorhood - allowing in their view true dedication to the organisation.


Mr Modi is one of a set of savvy BJP leaders who are as comfortable with IT as with the hardline politics of the Hindu right.

This combination is believed to be central to their political appeal.

BJP party worker
Mr Modi has wide support among party hardliners

Mr Modi has a formidable reputation as a party organiser.

This skill, along with an ability for secrecy, comes from long years of training as an RSS "pracharak" or propagandist, analysts say.

Mr Modi got his big break in the public arena when his predecessor in the state, Keshubhai Patel, was forced to step down in the fall-out from the earthquake in January 2001 that killed nearly 20,000 people.

Critics say that even if his BJP support withers, as long as Mr Modi holds the backing of the RSS he will be hard to prise from office.

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