India hardliner Modi coy on prime ministerial hopes

Indian hardline nationalist politician Narendra Modi, tipped to be the opposition's prime ministerial candidate, refused on Saturday to be drawn into saying whether he wanted the top job.

"I have never dreamt of becoming someone in life," the chief minister of western Gujarat state told a conference in reply to a question about whether he wanted to become premier.

"Until I became chief minister, I never dreamt of becoming one. I had never even met an astrologer to tell me I would become chief minister," Modi, 62, said at the late evening meeting organised by media group India Today.

Modi heads the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Gujarat.

India's embattled national ruling Congress and the main opposition BJP are poised to go head-to-head in general elections early next year but have yet to name their candidates for premier.

Observers have been predicting a showdown between Modi and Rahul Gandhi -- the 42-year-old scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty -- with 80-year-old Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seen unlikely to lead the Congress coalition again.

Singh's Congress-led coalition has been buffeted by a sharply slowing economy, high inflation and a series of corruption allegations.

But recently Gandhi, long regarded as a reluctant politician and a weak political performer, has cast doubt about whether he wants to be the Congress prime ministerial candidate, declaring it is not his "priority".

Modi, meantime, has grown in stature since his third straight win in state elections last year. His main selling point is the economic success of Gujarat, which has enjoyed annual growth rates of 10 to 12 percent since 2007.

"I feel if the Gujarat model is good, it can be implemented in the country. I don't need to come there (to New Delhi)," Modi said.

Modi remains a hugely divisive figure nationally after being at the helm in Gujarat during religious riots in 2002 in which some 2,000 people -- mainly Muslims -- were killed, according to rights groups.

One of Modi's former ministers was jailed for life for instigating the killing, but investigations have cleared Modi of personal responsibility.

As part of his plans for India's resurgence, Modi said stemming widespread corruption and good governance were strategies that could turn around the economy.