Controversial Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi won a landslide election in the Indian state of Gujarat yesterday, firming up his chances of running for prime minister in 2014.
Modi, a charismatic but divisive figure, is now set to continue as chief minister of Gujarat, sealing his status as the most high-profile leader of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of national polls in early 2014.
With nearly all results counted, news reports from Gujarat state, gave the BJP 122 seats in the state parliament, up from 117 seats in the last election. Its closest rival, the Congress party, was expected to take 56 seats, six seats fewer than it held before.
"No need of looking behind, FORWARD! We want infinite energy, infinite courage, infinite patience …" said a quote on his personal Twitter site.
While the victory in the election held on Monday was expected, Modi's popularity on the national stage remains uncertain with his reputation tarnished by allegations over links to deadly Hindu-Muslim riots in his home state in 2002.
Gujarat is one of India's fastest-growing states but it was badly scarred by the riots in which 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. Modi is blamed by some rights groups for turning a blind eye as mobs went on an orgy of violence with victims set alight or hacked to death in the streets. He denies any wrongdoing over the unrest.
"Modi has proven that he has the ability to showcase himself as a prime ministerial candidate," said Sebastian Morris, an economics professor at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's main city. "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. But many in the BJP itself are wary of Modi, fearing that he remains a hate figure for Muslims and secularists.
"Big success in one state does not mean that the party is ready to put Modi centre stage," said Pralay Kanungo, of the Centre for Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. "The big challenge for him is appease his party and potential allies. He will have to fine-tune his political skills to be the BJP candidate in 2014."
In Himachal Pradesh state, which also went to the polls, the Congress party is forecast to throw out the BJP.
Additional reporting by Associated Press