Fear and cautious hope for India's Muslims in Modi era

Fear and cautious hope for India's Muslims in Modi era
Indian Muslim supporters hold up sweets and a portrait of victorious Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Varanasi.

AHMEDABAD, India - Millions of India's Muslims fear Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi's landslide election will fuel religious discrimination, intolerance and even bring bloodshed, but some are also prepared to give him a chance.

The right-wing hardliner stormed to victory at the polls, throwing the left-leaning secular Congress from office and handing his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a powerful mandate for promised sweeping reforms.

Critics warn the size of the victory will empower Modi, steeped in Hindu nationalist ideology and tainted by anti-Muslims riots, to run roughshod over religious minorities, particularly India's 150 million Muslims.

But some, at least, are hopeful that Modi's promise during the campaign of jobs and development to revive the stalled economy will benefit all classes, castes and religions, not just the Hindu majority.

"My hopes have been rekindled, I am looking forward to better days under his rule," said Abdul Salaam, 29, a Muslim tailor in Varanasi, a Hindu holy city which has a sizeable Muslim community.

Salaam pointed to the prosperity of western Gujarat state, where Modi was chief minister for 13 years, saying he hoped these policies could be reproduced nationally.

Muslim widow Parveen Banu, whose family was killed in communal riots in Gujarat, said the BJP leader would not dare turn against Muslims after weeks on the campaign trail preaching national unity.

Banu remembers running through the blood-splattered alleys of Gujarat's main city of Ahmedabad to escape the Hindu mobs that killed her husband and four children.

Banu, 40, has since rebuilt her life and now runs a shop selling mutton minutes from her home in a Muslim slum -- 12 years after the riots that killed at least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.

 'Of course Modi hates Muslims' 

As chief minister at the time, Modi is dogged by allegations he failed to stop the bloodshed, although he has been cleared by a court investigation.

"Of course Modi hates Muslims, but as prime minister can he really afford to show it?" Banu said to AFP.

"Plus, he has spoken of cultural unity and he has to live up to our expectations and I believe he will. He's not crazy.

"I just hope Allah shows him the right way."

Despite the optimism that some Muslims have, many fear life under a Modi-led government and voted in large numbers against him. According to a nationwide post-poll survey, only nine per cent of Muslims voted for the BJP while 43 per cent opted for Congress.

"Muslims are the only community to vote in big numbers for Congress," Sanjay Kumar, whose Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies conducted the poll, told AFP.

Congress, India's national secular force that has ruled for all but 13 years since independence, was obliterated, winning just 44 seats in the 543-member parliament.

Modi secured the strongest mandate of any Indian leader for 30 years, after the BJP won 282 seats, dominating even in states with large Muslim populations such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The number of Muslim lawmakers dropped from 30 in the outgoing parliament to a record low of 24, limiting their clout for the next five years, The Times of India said.

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