India's Modi picks new leader to stabilise home state Gujarat

Narendra Modi (above) has moved to shore up support in his home state of Gujarat.
Narendra Modi (above) has moved to shore up support in his home state of Gujarat.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has moved to shore up support in his home state of Gujarat by choosing as its next chief minister a representative of a powerful clan that staged widespread protests last year.

As expected, Modi named Nitin Patel to run the western state that Modi led for more than a decade, after his own successor, Anandiben Patel, quit following protests over a lack of job opportunities and social discrimination.

Patel's appointment was approved on Friday (Aug 5) by a meeting of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.

The 65-year-old prime minister pitched his "Gujarat model"of rapid economic growth to voters in the 2014 general election and, if he is to secure a second term, can ill afford a setback when the state goes to the polls in late 2017.

Patel, 60, is a member of the upper-caste Patel, or Patidar, community that rose up last year in Gujarat to demand "reservation", a guaranteed share of government jobs and college places usually reserved for disadvantaged groups.

Further protests in Gujarat last weekend by the low-caste Dalit community over attacks by militant Hindus who oppose cow slaughter led Anandiben Patel to tender her resignation on Monday.

Nitin Patel told Indian news channels on Friday he was determined to start a dialogue with Dalit leaders and find ways to end the agitation.

Dalits are planning more protests to express their outrage at the public beating of four men from their community by cow-protection vigilantes who accused them skinning a cow.