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by Staff Writers
Ahmedabad, India (AFP) Dec 20, 2012
Controversial Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi secured a landslide poll victory in the Indian state of Gujarat on Thursday, firming up his chances of running for prime minister in 2014.
Modi, who was in power ten years ago when the state was rocked by India's worst religious riots since independence, was re-elected chief minister with a final total of 115 seats in the 182-seat state assembly.
Supporters of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the main opposition party in the national parliament, set off firecrackers and waved flags in delight as the rival Congress party took only 61 seats.
Modi hailed the result as "a victory of development politics and good governance" as crowds chanted "PM! PM!" at his celebration rally.
"By placing the development agenda above everything... the people of Gujarat have created a historic example in the eyes of the entire nation," he said.
While his victory was expected, Modi's popularity on the national stage remains tempered by his failure to stop the savage riots in his home state in 2002.
Some 2,000 people were killed in clashes between Hindus and Muslims, most of them Muslims.
One of his former ministers was jailed for life for instigating the killing of 97 Muslims in one of the most notorious episodes of the riots.
But all investigations have cleared Modi of personal responsibility, and he has denied the accusations against him.
"He has proven (today) that he has the ability to showcase himself as a prime ministerial candidate," Sebastian Morris, a professor at the Indian Institute of Management in Gujarat's main city Ahmedabad, told AFP.
"Congress will have to work hard to check his increasing clout."
Though he has never openly declared his ambition to be prime minister, Modi is seen as angling to lead the BJP into the 2014 national elections -- with the ruling Congress party weakened by slowing growth and corruption scandals.
Loyalists in Gujarat, one of India's fastest-growing and most pro-business states, displayed banners declaring that Thursday's victory was only "a trailer" ahead of the general election.
But many in the BJP itself are wary of Modi, fearing that he remains a hate figure for Muslims and secularists since the riots.
Modi, who is now set for a fourth term as chief minister, is blamed by some rights groups for turning a blind eye as Hindu mobs went on an orgy of violence -- with victims set alight or hacked to death in the streets.
"Big success in one state does not mean that the party is ready to put Modi centre-stage," Pralay Kanungo, of the Centre for Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, told AFP.
"The big challenge for him is to appease his party and potential allies. He will have to fine-tune his political skills to be the BJP candidate in 2014."
Modi campaigned in the state polls on a platform of economic expansion and investment, gathering votes from a broad range of farmers, small businesses and young people attracted by his strong personal style, analysts said.
Modi, who is still denied a US visa over the riots, avoided Hindu nationalist themes on the campaign trail.
Congress did receive some good news in elections in Himachal Pradesh state, where it threw out the BJP.
Democracy in the 21st century at TerraDaily.com
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