Instead, the property broker and village chieftain is drawn to the
Hindu nationalist side of Modi, 63, who he believes will strip
privileges from India's minority Muslim population.
"With Modi taking office, Muslims will automatically feel the
pressure. They will not dare to raise their voice," said Balyan, 42,
to nods of approval from a group of friends.
Such views are common in settlements around the sugarcane belt of
Muzaffarnagar in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which was hit
by deadly religious strife last year.
The election is spread out over five weeks, with voting ending on
May 12. It was the turn of voters in Delhi, the capital, on Thursday
and many parts of Uttar Pradesh, including Muzaffarnagar, where
Modi's popularity is running high and Muslims are worried about
For many of the 815 million registered to vote, Modi and his
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) represent a promise of better
governance, industrial growth and job creation.
But Modi is tainted by accusations that he encouraged or turned a
blind eye to Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002 in Gujarat, the state he has
governed for 13 years. He has denied the charges and the Supreme
Court has said there is not enough evidence to prosecute.
The BJP's contention that other parties help Muslims at the expense
of the Hindu majority has become an increasingly prominent part of
its campaign in recent weeks — notably in areas where religious
tensions run high.
The fighting in Muzaffarnagar left some 65 dead, including four in
Balyan's village 118 km (73 miles) northeast of Delhi.
Like many others voting in the red-brick villages, Balyan blames
Muslim neighbors for starting the violence and the state government
for refusing to keep the perpetrators locked up.
"People have been attracted towards BJP because of the riots," said
Balyan, who belongs to the same Hindu caste as — and shares a
surname with — the BJP parliamentary candidate in Muzaffarnagar. He
openly admits to joining the frenzy of violence.
"I supported my people by providing necessary material. They went in
large numbers to other villages to teach Muslims a lesson," he said
with a grin, scratching at a stubbly beard.
APPEAL TO HINDUS
The BJP has appealed to the sense of Hindu victimhood felt by
Balyan. Modi's campaign manager Amit Shah was reprimanded this week
by election authorities for speeches around Muzaffarnagar that
appeared to justify the riots and accuse Muslims of raping, killing
and humiliating Hindus.
Modi is favorite to become prime minister, opinion polls have shown,
but his BJP needs a big win in Uttar Pradesh, a state with a
population comparable to Brazil that sends more lawmakers to
parliament than any other.
India's 1.2 billion people include about 150 million Muslims and
they form a significant minority in Uttar Pradesh. By adding
religious and caste issues to its broader national appeal based on
good governance, the BJP is making a last-minute push for support in
the electorally vital state, analysts said.
"This would help them mobilize votes at the last moment. That could
be the calculation to harvest votes in Uttar Pradesh," said E.
Sridharan, of the Pennsylvania Center for Advanced Study of India.
[to top of second column]
The party's manifesto, published this week, kept in place several
issues dear to the party's Hindu nationalist core, including doing
away with laws applying only to Muslims that it sees as favoritism.
Almost all the victims of last year's riots were Muslims, including
about 12,000 people who were made homeless and now shelter under
tents on plots of land bought with compensation money.
September 8, door-to-door cloth seller Babu Khan fled the village
his family had lived in for centuries. A Muslim, he now lives with
dozens of other refugees a few miles away, his home empty among the
charred buildings and abandoned mosques left by a mob of thousands.
Khan shows a mark on his leg he says was caused by a bullet.
But the emotional scars run deeper.
"We will never go back to the village. We would prefer to beg on the
road than go back," said Khan, whose brother was killed in the
rioting, along with seven of his neighbors.
Another Muslim who fled the village, Khalil Ahmad, said: "If Modi
becomes PM, we are worried that whatever happened in Gujarat and
here could happen here again."
"MODI FOR PM"
Kutba, the village they left behind, is also the home of the BJP's
parliamentary candidate, Sanjeev Balyan. It now has no Muslim
residents and although 800 of them are registered as voters, not one
had cast a ballot by midday.
Almost everybody, including children, wears orange "Modi for PM" hats
and BJP flags flutter from the rooftops.
The BJP is not the only party to seek electoral benefit in tensions
between India's Muslims and Hindus, which go back centuries and
erupted in a frenzy of bloodshed that killed hundreds of thousands
when colonial India was divided in 1947 into Hindu-majority India
and Pakistan, an Islamic state.
The Samajwadi Party, which runs the government in Uttar Pradesh, is
wooing Muslims. The ruling Congress party sought and received the
support of the imam or chief priest of the Jama Masjid, India's
biggest mosque, for the election.
But Modi seems to have clinched the support of many Hindus.
"There is a Modi wave in the whole region and the whole country,"
said Ankur Raghuvanshi, a 20-year-old commerce student, after he
cast his vote in Kutba. "Modi will be beneficial for the country,
there will be economic growth, he is a Hindu leader and is
beneficial for Hindus."
(Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
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