Scandals dog top aide to BJP's Modi
FOR a politician running on a platform of clean government, having a key aide facing murder charges could be seen as a liability - but not by the man tipped to be India's next prime minister.
Criss-crossing the country for months before the first phase of voting began on Monday, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its candidate for prime minister, Mr Narendra Modi, had campaigned mainly on a ticket of better governance, economic development and job creation.
But in Muzaffarnagar, an area torn apart by sectarian hatred, Mr Modi's chief aide, Amit Shah, branded the government as one "that protects and gives compensation to those who killed Hindus", the election commission said.
More than 50 people died in the Uttar Pradesh district in August.
Mr Modi first met former stockbroker Shah in the 1980s when both of them were volunteers.
Over the years, Shah, a portly and bearded 50-year-old, has become his closest confidant and key political manager.
"Everyone in the party understands that the shortest path to Mr Modi is via Shah," said one party insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In May, Shah was appointed chief strategist for Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP must triumph for Mr Modi to stand any chance of emerging as India's next prime minister when results are announced on May 16.
He is widely expected to take a senior role in any future Modi-run administration.
Even those colleagues who resent his aloofness acknowledge Shah's acumen and respect his unflinching loyalty to Mr Modi. His patron has reciprocated, sticking by him through multiple scandals.
The biggest of those stems from the alleged extra-judicial killing in 2005 of Muslims accused of terrorism when he was the interior minister in Gujarat. He denies the charges and is free on bail.
On Monday, the BJP released its election manifesto, promising to build a temple on the site of a mosque torn down by Hindu zealots more than two decades ago, reopening one of the most divisive issues in the country. Also in the manifesto were promises to protect and promote cows, which many Hindus consider sacred.
The decision to put provisions such as the construction of the Ram temple in the manifesto was taken mainly to satisfy hardliners in the party, one person involved in drafting the document said. "You have to put it in there, so you do," he said.