A far-right wing Indian party on Sunday publicly threw its support behind opposition Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi for prime minister ahead of next month’s general elections.
The firebrand head of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), Raj Thackeray, said he would back Modi, while announcing that his party would also field a handful of candidates for the elections.
“We will support Narendra Modi for the prime minister’s post. Modi should become the prime minister of the country,” 45-year-old Thackeray told supporters in Mumbai where his party is based.
The MNS, a rival offshoot of the hardline right-wing Shiv Sena, has a record of inciting riots and other violence mainly in its opposition of migrants in western Maharashtra state of which Mumbai is the capital.
Thousands of poor migrants from mostly northern India flock to the financial hub in search of jobs, which the MNS sees as a threat to the local Marathi workforce.
The MNS champions the culture, language and rights of regional Maharathis over so-called “outsiders”.
Despite the support, it is unclear whether Thackeray’s move will help Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is tipped by opinion polls to defeat the ruling Congress party at polls starting on April 7.
According to reports, a BJP leader urged Thackeray days earlier not to field MNS candidates to preserve the BJP’s ties with traditional ally Shiv Sena and avoid splitting the vote against Congress in Maharashtra.
After Shiv Sena took power in the Maharashtra government in 1994, it changed the city’s name from Bombay to Mumbai to underline the region’s Marathi identity in a move that attracted worldwide attention.
Modi, the chief minister of western Gujarat state since 2001, is seen as a pro-business reformer. But his Hindu nationalism and links to deadly anti-Muslim riots in 2002 in his home state have worried religious minorities and defenders of India’s officially secular character.