Modi is sole face of BJP campaign in state polls

Modi is sole face of BJP campaign in state polls
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) releasing pigeons during the celebration of the Dussehra festival in New Delhi last week. He will address at least one rally a day until state polls are held on Oct 15.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has turned key campaigner for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the poll-bound states of Maharashtra and Haryana, as the Hindu nationalist party tries to expand its influence in the strongholds of its main political rival, the Congress.

Mr Modi, fresh from being feted by the Indian-American community during his visit last week to the United States, is now the sole face of BJP's campaign in Haryana in the north, and in Maharashtra, home to the financial hub of Mumbai, in the south.

His popularity among Indian voters helped the BJP win a landslide victory in the May General Election, with the party keen to see a repeat of this in the two states that are under Congress rule and which never had a BJP majority government.

The Premier is set to address a minimum of one rally a day until polls are held on Oct 15.

"If you want Maharashtra to progress, then give us full majority. I am ready to take full responsibility," said Mr Modi in one election rally in Maharashtra.

In a rally in Haryana, he tore into his political opponents, including the family of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

"Vote out dynasty politics," he said yesterday in reference to the Congress party which, since India's independence, has mostly been led by a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family. He held three rallies in Haryana yesterday.

Analysts said it was unusual for a prime minister to be directly involved in state polls.

"It is not traditional for the prime minister to be doing so many meetings. But Mr Modi has so completely taken over the BJP, there is no one else.

"He is the crowd-puller and he gets the media coverage," said political analyst Sudhir Panwar.

"But it is not going to be that easy (for Mr Modi). In assembly elections, people also vote according to local candidates and local parties. The BJP does not have a strong cadre base in either state," he added.

The two state polls are the first major elections since the May General Election. Though the BJP won a complete majority in the Lower House of elected representatives in the general election, it performed poorly in two mini-elections held in August and last month.

Maharashtra and Haryana are among India's most industrialised states. The country's premier industry body, the Confederation of Indian Industry, yesterday said its business confidence index had climbed to a three-year high of 57.4, due to political stability and a better macroeconomic environment.

The reading is based on a survey of more than 150 firms of different sizes.

For Mr Modi, a win in Maharashtra - a base for many large corporations - would strengthen his position as he tries to attract more foreign investments and promote the manufacturing sector.

"Many of the industries and corporate sectors are located here in Mumbai," said political analyst Surendra V. Jondhale of Mumbai University.

"Maharashtra is a progressive state with good infrastructure and holds an attraction for multinational and transnational corporations. So Maharashtra is very important to sell his politics."

The BJP, which is seen mainly as a north Indian party, is also hoping to increase its influence in the south and the north-east.

It has made some inroads into the east where it has emerged as the main opposition party in Assam, while in the other eastern state of West Bengal, the BJP has gained a new foothold following the general election.

Opportunities for the party have also opened up in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where the legal troubles of former state chief J. Jayalalithaais are sure to create a political vacuum.

Professor Ghanshyam Shah, a political analyst, said the danger of putting Mr Modi at the forefront is that the BJP is becoming a one-man show. "The party increasingly believes that without Modi, they can't do anything."

This article was first published on October 7, 2014.
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