Arab Times

Premier faces revolt within party

Modi visits Britain, seeks to bounce back from poll blow


NEW DELHI, Nov 11, (Agencies): India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing a revolt within his Hindu nationalis­t party by senior leaders questionin­g his leadership style after the recent debacle in state elections.

Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party lost the election in eastern Bihar state last Sunday to a coalition of socialist groups, led by Nitish Kumar, in a major blow seen as a sign that many in India are alarmed by a rising tide of religious intoleranc­e and violence.

A statement issued late Tuesday by four former ministers indirectly accused Modi and party President Amit Shah of concentrat­ing too much power in their hands.

“A thorough review must be done of the reasons for the defeat as well as of the way the party is being forced to kowtow to a handful, and how its consensual character has been destroyed,” the statement said. It added that a review “must not be done by the very persons who have managed and who have been responsibl­e for the campaign in Bihar.”

Modi had sidelined the four leaders - Lal Krishna Advani, Yashwant Sinha, Murli Manohar Joshi and Shanta Kumar - after becoming prime minister in May last year.

A statement by Modi’s supporters said that the party would welcome any guidance of the senior leaders.

Current Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Parliament­ary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said the BJP had won the national and some state elections under the current leadership.

The election for control of Bihar, India’s second most populous state, was seen as a referendum on Modi’s popularity, and he had crisscross­ed the state addressing dozens of high-profile rallies. No other BJP leaders were as visible through the election as Modi.

The BJP was trounced in Delhi state elections earlier this year and the dramatic loss in Bihar is the second major defeat for the party.

State elections decide who controls the upper house of India’s Parliament. While the lower house, which the BJP controls, is significan­tly more powerful, the upper house is crucial for passing the legislatio­n needed for the economic reforms Modi’s government has promised.

Modi will address a mass rally on a visit to Britain this week that supporters hope will help him spring back from a humiliatin­g election loss and reassert his

authority on the global stage.

India and Britain could announce deals worth £8-12 billion ($12-$18 billion) during the visit, according to diplomats, with Modi keen to buy 20 more BAE Systems Hawk trainer aircraft to be made in Bengaluru.

Britain is home to an Indian diaspora of 1.5 million, and the two nations share the English language, historical ties and an obsession with cricket. Yet Modi has, in his first 18 months in power, made a priority of courting global powers like the United States and China.

“UK-India ties are economical­ly strong, but strategica­lly weak,” said Shashank Joshi, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Seeking to regain the initiative after crashing to defeat in a big state election

at the weekend, Modi eased foreign investment rules this week in 15 sectors, including mining, defence and civil aviation.

“By introducin­g these reforms the government is certainly spelling out why India is an attractive destinatio­n,” said Nalin Kohli, a spokesman for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The centrepiec­e of the Nov 12-14 trip will be a mass rally and firework display at Wembley Stadium on Friday for an estimated 60,000 supporters — three times bigger than the crowd he drew to New York’s Madison Square Garden last year.

Yet Modi’s popularity is being challenged at home, after the BJP lost an election badly in the eastern state of Bihar, home to 104 million people.

Three party elders, including former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani,

released a statement late on Tuesday questionin­g the direction of the BJP, which risks embarrassi­ng Modi just ahead of his visit.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking to revamp economic ties with fast-growing Asian nations, including India, as part of his push on business-focused diplomacy.

Modi’s trip marks a remarkable turnaround for a man who was banned from Britain for 10 years over his alleged role as chief minister of Gujarat in riots that killed about 1,000 people in 2002.

Britain ended a boycott of Modi three years ago after he emerged from being a provincial politician to the likely leader of the world’s largest democracy. He has denied wrongdoing and was exonerated by an inquiry ordered by India’s Supreme Court.

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