NEW DELHI- Veteran Indian politician Lal Krishna Advani resigned on Monday from top positions in the main opposition party a day after the selection of a controversial leader to head its election campaign exposed deep rifts in the party.

“For some time I have been finding it difficult to reconcile either with the current functioning of the party or the direction in which it is going,” Advani wrote in his surprise resignation letter.

The Hindu nationalist, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been crippled by infighting among leaders, with several, including Advani, harbouring ambitions to become India’s next prime minister.

But analysts say the party in disarray will struggle to seize back power from the ruling Congress party, even though the latter is beset by corruption scandals and accusations of poor economic management. On Sunday, senior party member Narendra Modi, long seen as a possible prime minister, was selected to head the opposition’s campaign in the coming election due by May 2014.

Advani, 85, was widely seen as the biggest internal obstacle to Modi’s ambition to become prime minister if the BJP won the polls. But many within the BJP fear that Modi is too divisive a figure to be the face of the party’s national election campaign and will polarise voters, further undercutting the party’s weak electoral position in many states.

Party leaders rushed to Advani’s house in a bid to change his mind, opening the possibility that he may only return to the leadership after extracting concessions. BJP President Rajnath Singh said on Twitter he did not accept the resignation letter. Modi is viewed with deep suspicion among India’s large Muslim minority and others who say he did not do enough to stop religious riots in 2002 that killed at least 1,000 people - most of them Muslims - in the western state of Gujarat where he is chief minister. Modi has denied any wrongdoing in the riots.

Modi’s supporters say he is a no-nonsense administrator who has won praise from big Indian and foreign companies for making Gujarat a business-friendly state. They say he can deliver growth and development at a time when India's economic growth has slowed to a decade low.

Despite his age, Advani, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2009, wanted another run at the top job, according to media reports.

In the letter, Advani said, “All my life I have found working for the Jana Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party a matter of great pride and endless satisfaction for myself.”

After finding fault with the way the party was being run now, he concluded the letter saying,

“I have decided, therefore, to resign from the three main fora of the party, the national executive, the parliamentary board and the election committee. This may be regarded as my resignation letter,” he said.

Advani’s letter was delivered in person to Singh at 11am. Advani and Singh had a meeting later at 12:30pm.

Sources said Rajnath Singh and Modi were to go together to Advani’s house and get his blessings. But Advani asked Singh to come alone for a meeting with him. When the two met, Advani expressed anger and resentment over Modi’s elevation.

Singh is believed to have requested Advani to withdraw his resignation, but the party veteran said he was firm on his decision.

Significantly, Advani continues to be chairman of the BJP parliamentary party and working chairman of NDA.

Party sources said that Singh has not accepted his resignation and efforts will be made to make him withdraw it.

In the midst of media speculation over his absence that was ascribed to his reservations over Modi’s elevation, the Gujarat chief minister claimed yesterday that he had talked to Advani and got his blessings.

Party leaders, including President Rajnath Singh, had put a brave face, saying it was ill health that kept Advani away from the Goa deliberations.

“Whatever has happened has happened on the basis of consensus,” Singh had said yesterday after declaring Modi as BJP’s election campaign chief.

Meanwhile, BJP General Secretary Ananth Kumar, considered an Advani loyalist, rushed to Advani’s house.

Advani’s campaign to build a Hindu temple on the site of a 16th-century mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya helped bring the party to national attention but also led to deadly religious riots.

Hindu zealots razed the mosque in 1992 which led to unrest in which over 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, died.

BJP spokesman Srikant Sharma told AFP that “every leader of the party will make every possible effort to convince him to stay. His resignation has not been accepted.”

Advani did not attend the meeting of the BJP’s national executive at the weekend which promoted Modi to the election committee chairman, although the official reason given was illness.

Advani mentored 62-year-old Modi, a chief minister from the western state of Gujarat, and defended him against criticism that he failed to stop deadly anti-Muslim riots in 2002.