INDIA, DEC 20 -
Narendra Modi looked set to win a fourth successive term as the chief minister of India's Gujarat state on Thursday, a victory that could launch the prime ministerial ambitions of one of the country's most popular but controversial leaders.
Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was leading in 115 out of 182 seats, against 62 seats for the Congress party, which heads India's national government, according to the Election Commission website at 0523 GMT.
The final result is likely to have repercussions far beyond the borders of the prosperous western state of 60 million people.
The BJP won 117 seats in 2007 and analysts say Modi needs a convincing victory to present himself as the party's presumptive candidate for prime minister in national elections due by 2014.
A big win for Modi could fire up the ailing main opposition BJP, giving it a leader who inspires euphoric support for the high growth, uninterrupted power supply and safe streets he is credited with providing in Gujarat.
But the 62-year-old Modi, portrayed by his critics as a closet Hindu zealot, could prove too divisive a figure to become a nationally acceptable leader.
That could play into the hands of the Congress party as it prepares to launch Rahul Gandhi, heir to India's most powerful political dynasty, as the man to take over the reins from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
To his detractors, Modi's reign is overshadowed by Hindu-Muslim riots that tore through his state 10 years ago, killing 1,000-2,000 people. Critics accuse him of not having done enough to stop the violence, or even quietly encouraging it, allegations he has strenuously denied and have never been proven.
Posted on: 2012-12-20 12:01