India's Modi denies stoking divisions to win election, files nomination


By Shivam Patel

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi defended himself against criticism that he is stoking divisions between Hindus and Muslims to win national elections as he filed his nomination on Tuesday for re-election from one of Hinduism’s holiest cities.

India began voting April 19 in the seven-phase election in which Modi, 73, is seeking to be the second prime minister to win a third straight term since independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru.

Although Modi began his campaign by showcasing his economic record, governance and popularity, he has changed tack after the first phase to accuse the main opposition Congress party of being pro-Muslim.

Analysts say this was likely aimed at firing up the base of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party after a low turnout in the first phase sparked doubts that BJP and its allies could win the landslide that the party sought.

“I believe people of my country will vote for me,” Modi told broadcaster CNN-News18 in Varanasi, his parliamentary constituency in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

“The day I start talking about Hindu-Muslim (in politics) will be the day I lose my ability to lead a public life,” Modi said, speaking in Hindi. “I will not do Hindu-Muslim. That is my resolve.”

Modi’s critics often accuse him and BJP of targeting minority Muslims to please their hardline voters, which he and the party deny.

While Hindus make up about 80% of India’s 1.4 billion people, it also has the world’s third-largest Muslim population of about 200 million.

Congress has complained to the Election Commission that Modi made “deeply objectionable” comments about Muslims in an April 21 speech, violating poll rules. The commission has sought a response from the BJP on the complaint.

In that speech, Modi accused Congress of planning to do a wealth concentration survey, seize properties and redistribute them, which Congress has denied.

He said at the time: “During their (Congress) previous government, they said that Muslims have the first right on the wealth of the nation. That means, who will they redistribute this wealth to? They will give it those who have more children, to infiltrators.”

On Tuesday, Modi said he did not name any community in that speech, even as he continued to focus on the theme.

“I have neither said Hindu or Muslim. I have said you should have as many children as you can support,” Modi said.

(Reporting by Shivam Patel in New Delhi; Editing by YP Rajesh and Bernadette Baum)



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