Indian Hindu nationalists seek consensus for Modi as PM

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's Hindu nationalist party scrambled on Saturday to win support from the movement's most senior leader over a decision to annoint controversial politician Narendra Modi as candidate for premier in looming elections.

Senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including lower parliamentary house chief Sushma Swaraj, visited 85-year-old BJP co-founder L.K. Advani at his New Delhi home.

But they failed to smooth over differences with Advani, who had written to the BJP earlier in the week to say he was "anguished and disappointed" about developments in the party.

Advani boycotted Friday's ceremony at which Gujarat state chief minister Modi, his one-time protoge, was nominated to be the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in polls due by 2014.

The unhappiness of Advani, who has harboured his own prime ministerial ambitions, has underscored discord within BJP's ranks over Modi's nomination.

"Every family has a right to its disagreements," BJP President Rajnath Singh told reporters.

Hardline Hindu leader Modi is one of India's most polarising politicians, tainted by deadly anti-Muslim riots on his watch in 2002 but also credited with turning Gujarat into an economic powerhouse.

Newspapers on Saturday splashed Modi's nomination on its front page. "BJP Crowns Modi. Will India Follow?" asked The Economic Times in a headline.

Modi remains under a ban from entering the United States imposed in 2005 over the riots.

The Press Trust of India on Saturday quoted a US state department spokeswoman as saying there was "no change" in Washington's visa policy toward Modi.

The spokeswoman said Modi was "welcome to apply for a visa and await a review like any other applicant" but added it would be "grounded in US law".

Modi has become a hero of middle-class India, hailed as a business-friendly moderniser who could revive a sharply slowing economy while the BJP hopes he can end the party's near-decade in the political wilderness.

Detractors revile Modi as a Hindu zealot who allegedly turned a blind eye to anti-Muslim riots on his home turf in which as many as 2,000 people were hacked, burnt and shot to death, according to rights groups.

Modi has denied any wrongdoing.