(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.