Washington: As the debate on potential Prime Ministerial contenders for the 2014 elections picks up in India, a US Congressional report says it might just turn out to be a direct contest between controversial Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

A latest report on India by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a bipartisan and independent research wing of the US Congress, finds Modi a strong Prime Ministerial candidate for the opposition BJP in 2014, while at the same time discussing the prospect of the Congress putting up Rahul Gandhi for the position.

However, the report which gives a detailed account of international political dimensions of India, does not clearly state it would be a Modi versus Gandhi affair in 2014.

"The 2009 polls may have represented a coming out party of sorts for the younger Gandhi, who many expect to be put forward as Congress' Prime Ministerial candidate in scheduled 2014 elections," said the report dated September 1, which was made public on Tuesday by the Federation of American Scientists.

CRS reports are meant for consumption of US lawmakers and are generally not available in the public domain.

However, many a times due to efforts of certain think-tanks and non-governmental organisations, these are made available in the public domain.

"Yet this heir-apparent remains dogged by questions about his abilities to lead the party, given a mixed record as an election strategist, uneasy style in public appearances, and reputation for gaffes," the CRS said.

Party chief and UPA chair, Sonia Gandhi is seen to wield considerable influence over the coalition's policy making process, it said.

"Her foreign origins have presented an obstacle and likely was a major factor in her surprising 2004 decision to decline the Prime Ministership," the report said, adding that Rahul is widely seen as the most likely heir to Congress leadership.

On the BJP's front, on the other hand, Modi is among the party's likely candidates for the Prime Ministership, the report said.

"At present, the BJP President is Nitin Gadkari, a former Maharashtran official known for his avid support of privatisation. Although still in some disorder in 2011, there are signs that the BJP has made changes necessary to be a formidable challenger in scheduled 2014 polls," it said. "These include a more effective branding of the party as one focused on development and good governance rather than emotive, Hindutva-related issues, and Gadkari's success at quelling intra-party dissidence and, by some accounts, showing superior strategising and organising skills as compared to his predecessors," the report said.

"Yet among the party's likely candidates for the Prime Ministership in future elections is Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who has overseen impressive development successes in his state, but who is also dogged by controversy over his alleged complicity in lethal anti-Muslim rioting there in 2002," it said.

At the same time CRS brings to the notice of lawmakers that Modi has in the past been denied a US visa under an American law barring entry for foreign government officials found to be complicit in severe violations of religious freedom.

Gujarat, Bihar best example of governance

Identifying Gujarat as perhaps the best example of effective governance and impressive development in India, a Congressional report showered praise on the Chief Minister Narendra Modi and said that the state under him has become a key driver of national economic growth.
   
Gujarat, is followed by Bihar and its Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, for his governance and administrative skills, the CRS report on India said.
   
"Perhaps India's best example of effective governance and impressive development is found in Gujarat, where controversial Chief Minister Narendra Modi has streamlined economic processes, removing red tape and curtailing corruption in ways that have made the state a key driver of national economic growth," said the CRS report.
   
The 94-page report was released by the CRS for US lawmakers on September 1, a copy of which made public by the Federation of American Scientists.
   
"Seeking to overcome the taint of his alleged complicity in 2002 riots, Modi has overseen heavy investment in modern roads and power infrastructure, and annual growth of more than 11 percent in recent years," the CRS said.
   
Gujarat, the CRS said, has attracted major international investors such as General Motors and Mitsubishi and with only five percent of the country's population, the state now accounts for more than one-fifth of India's exports, it said.
   
Bihar close second to Gujarat
   
"Another positive example in 2011 has been Bihar, one of India's poorest states, where Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has won national attention through his considerable success in emphasising good governance over caste-based politics.”
   
"He is credited with restoring law and order across much of the state, as well as overseeing infrastructure and educational improvements of direct benefit to common citizens projects," the report said.
   
"Kumar's Janata Dal (United) party, in alliance with the main national opposition BJP, won an overwhelming reelection majority in November 2010 state elections," the report said.

Modi hails US report

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday tweeted that a US report on Gujarat, which hails his government's effectiveness, is another recognition for the six crore people of the state.

"Another recognition for 6 crore Gujaratis. US report hails Gujarat's effective governance," Modi tweeted after US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report showered praise on him and said that the state, under him, has become a key driver of national economic growth.

"Jay Jay Garvi Guj (Hail, Hail Gujarat)," Modi further said in his tweet.

"Perhaps India's best example of effective governance and impressive development is found in Gujarat, where controversial Chief Minister Narendra Modi has streamlined economic processes, removing red tape and curtailing corruption in ways that have made the state a key driver of national economic growth," said the CRS report.
   
However, in May 2005, Modi was denied visa by the US after the 2002 post-Godhra riots.
    
An independent and bipartisan wing of the US Congress, the CRS prepares periodic reports on issues of interest to the US lawmakers.
    
"Seeking to overcome the taint of his alleged complicity in 2002 riots, Modi has overseen heavy investment in modern roads and power infrastructure, and annual growth of more than 11 percent in recent years," the CRS said.

Cong reminds Modi of the US' denial of visa

Congress on Wednesday sought to deflate BJP's euphoria over a US Congressional report praising Narendra Modi for good governance, saying the same United States still continues to deny visa to the Gujarat Chief Minister.
   
"BJP has decided to extoll a purported report by a US think tank. They should also be cognizant that the same US still continues to deny him a visa," Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari told reporters here.
   
He was responding to a volley of questions on the US Congressional report identifying Gujarat as perhaps the best example of effective governance and impressive development in India and showering praise on Modi, saying the state under him has become a key driver of national economic growth.
   
Tewari also ridiculed L K Advani's proposed yatra against corruption and the fast being undertaken by Modi for peace, harmony and unity in his state, indicating that these were signs of a power struggle in the BJP ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
   
"Neither the yatra is about corruption nor the fast is about Sadbhavana. Both are attempting political positioning," he claimed.
   
"Both Advani and Modi are attempting political positioning which is intrinsic to the BJP. It is apparent that lessons of 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls are completely lost on BJP."
   
Taking a dig at the two BJP leaders, he said a’ strange phenomena’ has enveloped the BJP as "an elder gentleman is on a yatra and another gentleman on a fast.
   
"The last time, the elder gentleman had decided to go on a yatra, it has assaulted the secular foundation of the country. We still continue to pay the price after so many years."


Salman's jibe at Modi on undertaking fast

   
Taking a jibe at Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi over his decision to undertake a fast for peace, harmony and unity, Law Minister Salman Khurshid on Wednesday asked whether Modi was doing so as penance for his "contribution to communal disharmony" in his state.
   
"In India you undertake fast either for penance or reaching out to God, to protect someone or when you think you have to cleanse yourself. If his fast is for communal harmony and unity in the state, we would like to know whether harmony in Gujarat has been spoilt and if so what was his contribution to the communal disharmony there, where he ruled for 20 years.
   
"If it is for penance, we would like to know what the penance is for," Khurshid told reporters here when asked to comment on Modi's decision.
   
Buoyed by the Supreme Court verdict in Gulbarga Society riot case, Modi had on Tuesday hit out at his detractors for ‘defaming’ him for the 2002 riots and announced that he would undertake a three-day fast for peace, harmony and unity in his state.
   
Replying to questions on a US Congress report saying the 2014 Lok Sabha election could turn out to be a direct contest between Modi and Rahul Gandhi, the Law Minister said, "If it is true .... I pity Modi."
   
"You can only pity, whoever will have to fight Rahul Gandhi. If it is a contest between the two, the condition of Modi will be pitiable," he added.

(Agencies)