NEW DELHI (AP) — The main opposition candidate for Indian prime minister will contest next month's elections from a revered Hindu holy city, a decision that analysts said was a sign of his commitment to Hindu nationalism.
Anant Kumar, a Bharatiya Janata Party spokesman, announced late Saturday Narendra Modi's nomination from the city of Varanasi in northern Uttar Pradesh state, India's most populated state, with nearly 200 million people. Voting in the elections will be held from April 7 to May 12.
Analysts said choosing Modi symbolized his credentials as a Hindu nationalist, though he is projecting himself in the campaign as a man committed to development in an impoverished country. He is considered to be pro-business.
Neeraja Chowdhury, a political analyst, said Modi need not talk about his Hindu credentials, because people already know about them.
Muslim leaders and rights activist accuse Modi of failing to stop 2002 religious riots in the western state of Gujarat, where he's served as the top elected official since 2001. More than 1,000 people died in the violence, mostly Muslims.
Modi has denied any wrongdoing, and investigators have cleared him of any direct involvement in the violence.
Chowdury said Modi's decision to contest from the Hindu holy city was aimed at galvanizing his party's prospects in the sprawling states of Uttar Pradesh and neighboring Bihar, which together account for 120 of the 543 seats at stake in the powerful lower house of Parliament. Its performance in these two states could prove to be crucial for the BJP to come to power in May.
Modi's main rival in the elections is Rahul Gandhi, the 43-year-old vice president of the ruling Congress Party and scion of the Gandhi family, who will be contesting from the Amethi parliamentary seat, also in Uttar Pradesh state.
However, Modi's party is considered the front-runner heading into the elections.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center said 63 percent of Indians prefer the Bharatiya Janata Party over Congress.
Modi is also expected to contest from a parliamentary voting district in his home state of Gujarat.
Under Indian election laws, a person can contest from more than one constituency. But Modi has to choose one seat in Parliament after the election results are announced.