Indian Hindu nationalist Modi visits Lucknow to woo Muslim voters

March 3, 2014

(Vistors to Lucknow’s 1784 Bara Imambara, or tomb of a Shi’ite Muslim
holy man, March 10, 2002. REUTERS/Jason Reed)

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.

(A supporter of India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with his body painted with Hindu symbols attends a rally addressed by Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi in Lucknow March 2, 2014. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar )

“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.

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