He has been pilloried for horrific riots in which hundreds of Muslims were killed on his watch in western India 12 years ago. He is vilified by many as a fearsome Hindu supremacist.
And yet, a Reuters analysis of Friday's sweeping election victory for Narendra Modi shows that many of India's Muslim voters appear to have put aside their fears and backed his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has promised to bring jobs and a revival of the economy.
Alongside the sheer scale of Modi's triumph, the change in attitude among a sizeable proportion of the Muslim community is one of the most surprising outcomes of a vote where social and economic aspirations appear to have overridden other concerns.
With counting of votes cast for parliamentary seats still underway, data provided by the Election Commission showed that in constituencies where the population of Muslims is more than 20 percent, a BJP candidate looked set to win in nearly half.
Muslims account for about 15 percent of India's 1.2 billion people, which means that - although a minority - they number some 175 million, making them the world's third-largest Muslim population.
The vote count showed that the BJP and its allies were likely to win around 339 of the 543 parliamentary seats at stake in the election, far more than the halfway mark required to rule and sealing Modi's bid to become prime minister.
Of the 102 constituencies where, according to polling group CSDS at least one in five voters are Muslims, Election Commission data showed that a BJP candidate had won or was leading the count in 47.
In the 2009 election, the BJP won only 24 of these seats.
Modi's party was even heading for victory on Friday in two seats where more than half of the population is Muslim, and in 18 where more than a third of the voters are Muslims.
"VOTE FOR DEVELOPMENT AND JOBS"
Many Muslims loathe the man now set to be the country's next leader, blaming him for encouraging or at best turning a blind eye to a 2002 frenzy of bloodshed in the western state of Gujarat, where he was chief minister at the time.
More than 1,000 people were slain in the rioting, most of them Muslims.
Modi maintains that he did all he could to quell the violence, and the Supreme Court found he has no case to answer.
His party denies that it has a bias against non-Hindus, but says