Indian Hindu nationalist Modi turns to Muslim voters

LUCKNOW, India Sun Mar 2, 2014 11:41am EST

A supporter of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with his body painted attends a rally addressed by Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, prime ministerial candidate for BJP and Gujarat's chief minister, in the northern Indian city of Lucknow March 2, 2014. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

A supporter of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with his body painted attends a rally addressed by Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, prime ministerial candidate for BJP and Gujarat's chief minister, in the northern Indian city of Lucknow March 2, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Pawan Kumar

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LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) - Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist leader tipped as India's next prime minister, appealed to Muslim voters on Sunday and hit out at rivals accusing him of bias against the country's largest religious minority.

Addressing hundreds of thousands of mainly Hindu supporters at a rally in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Modi said his economic policies meant Muslims were better off in Gujarat, the western state he governs, than other parts of India.

The rally in the state capital Lucknow, where a third of the population is Muslim, was attended by a sea of people clad in orange, the color associated with Hinduism. The ground, which can hold some 400,000, was not totally full.

Modi, 63, has a strong lead in opinion polls ahead of the regionally phased general election voting due in April and May, but the surveys suggest he may still struggle to gather enough seats to form a government. Muslim votes could help.

"We believe in economic development, while you play the politics of votes, letting Muslims languish in poverty," Modi said, in a jibe at the government of Uttar Pradesh, which relies on Muslim support and has a poor development record.

Modi is dogged by allegations he did not stop religious riots in Gujarat over a decade ago, when at least 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed in retaliation for the death of Hindu pilgrims in an attack on a train.

He denies the allegations and a Supreme Court inquiry concluded there was not enough evidence to try him.

WOOING MUSLIMS

Modi's comments were his most direct attempt to woo Muslim voters since being named last year as the candidate of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or prime minister.

Hindu-Muslim relations have been a central part of Indian politics for centuries. The Hindu nationalist BJP made its name 20 years ago by whipping up tensions between the communities.

Because of that history, most Indian Muslims are still wary of Modi, but some are convinced by his message of economic development for all.

"We want people to unite, if that happens, India will be much more prosperous and more secure for Muslims," said Amir Uddin, a scholar of Islam sporting a "Modi for PM" cap who travelled 200 km in a BJP bus to attend the rally.

Muslims are among the most economically deprived sections of Indian society. Hindus make up about 80 percent of India's population while Muslims account for some 13 percent.

Modi's message is unlikely to win over Muslim voters in droves, but it may help convince other Indians who are drawn to his strong economic record but fear he is a divisive leader.

His speech came just a few days after BJP President Rajnath Singh made conciliatory remarks to Muslims, saying the party was ready to apologize for mistakes it may have made. He called on Muslims to give the BJP a chance.

FOCUS ON ECONOMIC RECORD

Singh also struck a soft note on Sunday, making reference to Lucknow's religious tolerance in the 18th and 19th centuries under its Muslim Nawab rulers, who built a famous Hindu temple in the city.

Modi has roots in hard line pro-Hindu politics, but he has focused his election campaign almost entirely on his economic achievements in Gujarat, which has witnessed double-digit economic growth for a decade.

He has the strong support India's corporate sector and investors, who hope he will replicate Gujarat's economic model on a national scale.

On Sunday, Modi contrasted tension between religious communities in Uttar Pradesh, which has seen dozens of riots in the past two years, with a period of peace in Gujarat.

BJP leaders blame the spate of riots in Uttar Pradesh on the state government, run by the regional Samajwadi Party, but concede privately that the resulting polarization has helped their party draw Hindu voters.

Dates for the general election are likely to be announced next week. A new government must be formed by the end of May.

(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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Comments (4)
BanglaFirst wrote:
Modi is racist and his hands are dripping with blood of Muslims. All minorities must steer clear clear of this evil animal whose supporters have burnt alive people in bakery and in trains. He is a modern day Nazi.

Mar 02, 2014 1:19pm EST  --  Report as abuse
StevenBoyd wrote:
WHY INDIA’S 170 MILLION MUSLIMS WILL NOT VOTE FOR MODI
According to the teachings Savakar the ideologue of the RSS the following is true of Muslims.
Muslims’ allegiance to India is weaker than their allegiance to their holyland (Mecca which lies outside India), and so their patriotism is suspect. Being the minority, Muslims need to be at the mercy of Hindus. Getting rid of Muslims is also justified, for that was what the Germans did to the Jews.
Mohan Bagwat the RSS Supremo said as recently as June 2013. That “India is for the Hindus and Hindutva and minorities must understand this, or they are free to leave India”.
Narendra Modi has also said in December 2013 in an interview with Reuters “I am a Hindu Nationalist first and I am guided by this in all things”.
Muslims often vote for parties that would protect them, as most in the community are scared stiff, that the police will not act effectively to protect them in case of a riot.
When in the future, Muslims in India feel secure then they will vote like everybody else on issues and not in religious blocks.

Mar 04, 2014 8:51am EST  --  Report as abuse
jaycdp wrote:
Modi is a Hindu leader and in India religion plays big role in ruling. However is not a ruler who is selfish about Hindu issues only. He is far more focussed on addressing issues of common man than any other leader. VHP and RSS are not political parties so any message they give out has no political significance. I would not see any leaders from RSS or VHP taking over Modi and trying to bring a coup against modi. All I can see modi influencing RSS and controlling RSS and VHP.

Mar 04, 2014 11:56am EST  --  Report as abuse
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