Updated: 06/10/2013 04:53 | By Agence France-Presse

Indian hardliner Modi to front India's opposition

Controversial Indian politician Narendra Modi was chosen Sunday to front the main opposition's campaign for general elections in 2014, boosting his chances of becoming the nation's next prime minister.

Indian hardliner Modi to front India's opposition

Narendra Modi greets supporters following his arrival in Goa on June 7, 2013. Modi was chosen Sunday to front the main opposition's campaign for general elections in 2014, boosting his chances of becoming the nation's next prime minister.

Modi, chief minister of the thriving state of Gujarat for more than a decade, said he was "extremely grateful" for the opportunity to head the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) election panel.

Modi, a hardline Hindu nationalist, said in a message on his official Twitter account that he would "leave no stone unturned" to defeat the Congress party, which has been in power since 2004.

"Our aim should be a Congress-free India... if we can free this country of the Congress, all our problems will be solved," Modi said in a post-appointment speech to loud cheers from party workers.

The BJP, the main opposition in parliament, appointed Modi to the post at a meeting in the coastal state of Goa despite some misgivings expressed by his senior colleagues.

"I have today appointed the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi the chairman of the election campaign committee," BJP president Rajnath Singh told reporters at a meeting of the national executive called to prepare for next May's vote.

The post is seen as a stepping stone for Modi in his quest to be named the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, despite concerns that he would be seen as a divisive figure over his failure to stop deadly anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002.

Modi has painted himself as a pro-business reformist who can revive the fortunes of the world's largest democracy.

Congress is hoping for a third straight victory in the elections but its coalition government has been hit by a string of graft scandals and a slump in economic growth.

In his new role Modi will have to canvass for votes around India, forge strategies to attack Congress and build support for his candidacy as premier.

He will need to win the backing of senior BJP members as well as the party's regional coalition partners before he can gain the candidacy.

Some BJP members have expressed doubts over his ability to steer votes away from the secular Congress, an analyst said.

"Modi will be a divisive candidate, he is a divisive figure even within his own party, where it's mainly the radical Hindu faction that supports him," said B.G. Verghese of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

"Once you look past the hype, the cards are stacked against him. The BJP's partners will have a hard time supporting a man who will struggle to win in any state where Muslims are a large enough minority," he told AFP.

Modi will need to prove himself in politically important states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in north India, both of which are dominated by regional parties and are home to a significant Muslim population.

Some observers expect a face-off between Modi and Rahul Gandhi, 42, a lacklustre political performer who is the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty at the helm of the Congress party.

Polls show significant support for Modi among the urban middle class, who are frustrated with Congress and uneasy over the prospect of the untested Gandhi becoming premier.

But the ghosts of the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat could pose a stumbling block to Modi's ambitions to lead India.

As many as 2,000 people -- mainly Muslims -- were killed during the month-long unrest, according to rights groups.

One of Modi's former ministers was jailed for life for instigating the killings but several investigations have cleared the hardline politician of personal responsibility.

Some senior party members stayed away from the meeting in Goa, including Lal Krishna Advani, the 85-year-old BJP veteran who mentored Modi.

Advani, whom officials said was too sick to attend the meeting of some 300 party members, is now opposed to Modi's elevation.

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