As Narendra Modi storms into India's election, a quiet alternative emerges

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The main opposition party's candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi is unquestionably the man to beat. PTI The main opposition party's candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi is unquestionably the man to beat. PTI
SummaryFive months before India's elections are due, there is an air of victory around Narendra Modi...

inauguration last week, Chouhan told them that a congregation of Islamic scholars was important for everyone, said a top aide, who asked not to be identified.

That inclusive approach has won Chouhan support from a fair sprinkling of Muslims, who have traditionally shunned his party.

For now, Modi is on a roll, tapping into public anger with the Congress Party after years of corruption scandals, stubborn inflation and dwindling economic growth.

But, privately, party leaders concede that the BJP may not be able to form a government with Modi as prime minister if it wins less than 180 of the 543 elected seats in the lower house of parliament. If it falls short of that number, it might have to ditch him and find another candidate.

To rule, a party needs the support of 272 members. Opinion polls so far have forecast the BJP will win around 160 seats, which means it may need to join hands with a cluster of smaller parties to reach the halfway mark.

The BJP will need support from regional parties in the south and east that may be reluctant to associate themselves with the polarising Modi, fearing a backlash from Muslims in their states. One ally in the heartland state of Bihar cut ties with the BJP this year after Modi was elevated to a national role, and the party has yet to find a substitute.

For the moment, Chouhan's camp is quietly biding its time.

"We want to stay below the national radar, we don't have extra-territorial ambitions," said the aide. "But people in the party, those who have tensions with Modi, may try to push him forward."

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