Washington/Bhopal, 14 April-2014(FT/Reuters/Dean Nelson) : Narendra Modi is widely expected to become India’s next leader. But for the country’s Muslims, he is indelibly linked to the 2002 Gujarat riots in which 1000 people – mostly Muslims – died. The FT’s Amy Kazmin visits the school at a 127-year-old mosque in Bhopal to discover how the teachers feel about the prospect of Modi as the country’s prime minister.
Indian Muslims wary of Narendra Modi and Secularism
Credits: Filmed and produced by Jyotsna Singh, edited by Tom Griggs. Additional footage by Reuters.
Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist tipped to become India’s next prime minister, accused of using religion to win power after he pledged to build Hindu temple on site of historic mosque.
More than 60 people were massacred and 50,000 forced to flee in a series of attacks in Muzaffarnagar last September.
India’s Election Commission has also asked Mr Modi’s aide Amit Shah to clarify his remarks.
The BJP’s opponents seized on the manifesto’s “communal” aspects to exploit fears among Muslims that a Modi government could see a return to the violence which engulfed Gujarat, where he is chief minister, in 2002.
More than 700 Muslims were massacred in the riots which led to Mr Modi being treated as an international pariah by Britain, the United States and the European Union.
Since then, as the possibility of Mr Modi being India’s next prime minister has increased, Britain and the United States have lifted the boycott and held a series of meetings with him. His supporters have claimed he has been cleared of any wrongdoing in his handling of the riots, but the ruling Congress Party has accused him of failing to protect Muslims.
Mr Modi has in turn accused the Congress Party and other opponents of hypocrisy and promised he would bring greater security and prosperity for Muslims, citing the higher living standards they enjoy in Gujarat.
“I want to make three promises personally – I will never be found wanting on hard work, I will not do anything for myself and I will not do anything with bad intent,” he said on Monday.
His government would show “zero tolerance” to terrorists and countries who threaten India’s security.
“There will be such a strong government at the centre that no country dares to threaten us but should feel like being friendly. We will also not threaten any other country but have cooperation,” he said.
“Such will be the capability of our government.”
The country’s 1.25 billion people, he added, can “smell their aspirations in this bouquet of our manifesto.”
He also pledged to ban Western supermarkets from opening stores in India and to stop the slaughter of cows, which are revered by Hindus.
Political opponents however, including its former long-term ally the Janata Dal (United), said the manifesto revealed the BJP’s “communal” nature. One of its leaders, K.C Tyagi, said it marked the end of the BJP’s moderate politics under its former leader and prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said the manifesto revealed the pledge to build a divisive Ram Temple as its “prime commitment.”
Turnout in Monday’s first phase of the marathon nine-stage election in Assam and Tripura was expected to be high but their results are not likely to be critical to the final result. Assam is a Congress stronghold while Tripura in the North East is governed at state level by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The contest is expected to begin in earnest on Wednesday when the polls open in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi – key battlegrounds – among others.
Mr Modi’s BJP-led National Democratic Alliance must win 272 seats in the Lok Sabha parliament for him to become India’s next prime minister. [ Input source: Dean Nelson ]