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Profile: Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi may not be the prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but he is certainly the most in-demand for campaign rallies.

Narendra Modi
Mr Modi is loved and hated in equal measure

A brilliant speaker, the Hindu hard-line party's poster boy is due to address nearly 270 rallies in the run up to the elections - a number far greater than BJP's prime ministerial candidate LK Advani will be addressing.

Mr Modi, the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat since 2001, is often called the BJP's brightest star, he's also the one most likely to succeed Mr Advani if and when the latter decides to hang up his boots.

A few months ago, some of India's top industrialists came out with a Modi-for-PM campaign.

But his critics refer to him as the merchant of death.

The controversial politician is admired and demonised in equal measure and few politicians have done so much to polarise Indian public opinion in recent years.

The chief minister is widely credited with scripting the economic growth and development of Gujarat.

Gujarat religious riots
The riots left at least 1,000 dead - mostly Muslims

But he is also known to have presided over India's worst religious riots in decades.

The riots erupted in 2002 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.

Mr Modi was accused of failing to halt the religious violence.

In fact, his opponents say he indirectly egged on Hindu mobs who were 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.

Because of the riots, the United States government denied him a visa.

Clean and efficient

Mr Modi may polarise public opinion in India and abroad, 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.

Narendra Modi's supporters
Mr Modi is a brilliant speaker

Mr Modi's image is that of a clean and efficient administrator who is corruption free.

That is one of the reasons why he has been re-elected twice as the state's chief minister.

When Mr Modi was re-elected in December 2002, a few months after the riots, his biggest gains were in the areas of inter-communal violence.

During those elections he campaigned openly on a platform of hard-line Hinduism.

But in the elections held in 2007, he talked mostly about the growth of Gujarat.

While those who benefited during his time as chief minister applauded his re-election, for the victims of the 2002 riots, a victory for Mr Modi was just one more symbol of injustice.

He has never expressed any remorse or offered any apologies for the riots and many Muslims displaced by the violence continue to live in ghettos near Ahmedabad, Gujarat's largest city.

At a rally addressed by Narendra Modi
His rallies are a massive draw

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 host of hard-line Hindu groups - including Mr Modi's 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.

Earthquake

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

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

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.

Writing in the American magazine, The Atlantic, Robert D Kaplan says: "Although he is not his party's standard-bearer going into this spring's national elections, his popularity and influence in the BJP mean that he could one day be governing the world's largest democracy."



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