Muslims wary of Narendra Modi, fondly remember Atal Bihari Vajpayee

New Delhi, Apr 10: Muslim voters are by and large wary of Narendra Modi but say they would have happily voted for the BJP if it had Atal Bihari Vajpayee as its prime ministerial candidate.

Barring exceptions, Muslim men and women IANS spoke to in state after state insisted that it was near impossible to forgive Modi for the communal riots of 2002 in Gujarat where he is still chief minister.

“The community has not and will not come to terms with Modi,” said businessman Khaja Saleemuddin, a businessman in Hyderabad, echoing an opinion widely shared by Muslims across social and economic strata.

A middle class housewife in Mumbai, Mumtaz Ronaque, said most Muslims in India had overcome the agony of the 1992 Babri mosque razing “but cannot forget the Gujarat carnage”.

With the staggered Lok Sabha election under way, Muslim leaders and organisations have cautioned the community against voting for the BJP and instead opt for secular candidates.

The unhappiness vis-à-vis Modi does not mean that Muslims are for the Congress.

“Muslims too are for a change at the centre,” said Haji Kayal R.S. Elavarasu, who heads a Muslim group in Tamil Nadu. “But we are not ready to accept Narendra Modi.”

He added: “Given the current political formations, Muslims may have even voted for the BJP had it projected someone else as its prime ministerial nominee.”

A tea vendor in Kerala’s capital who did not want to be named said he missed the now ailing Vajpayee, who was prime minister for six long years until the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was voted out in 2004.

“When Vajpayee was at the helm of affairs, there was no such animosity towards the BJP in our community,” the man said.

Agreed N. Jamal Ansari, director of the Centre for Studies on Muslim Politics in Aligarh: “Muslims may have accepted a moderate like Vajpayee. But Modi is a threat not only to Muslims but to secular India too.”

Mufti Mukarram Ahmed, Shahi Imam of the Fatehpuri mosque in Old Delhi, also slammed Modi. “2002 was one of the most terrifying riots. We have nothing personal against Modi. But he is sure to divide the country.”

In Jammu and Kashmir, the well-to-do refuse to pardon Modi for the 2002 Gujarat killings. “He could have at least apologized to Muslims,” said retired engineer Ghulam Rasool Dar, 63.

But others hold a different view. “Modi must come to power,” insisted a contractor, Nazir Ahmad. “Let us see what he can give to poor people like me.”

At some 170 million, India’s Muslim population is the world’s third largest – after Indonesia and Pakistan. Muslims live in large numbers in many of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies, making them an enviable “vote bank”.

Muslim leaders have called upon the community to do “tactical voting” – to ensure their votes go to the strongest anti-BJP candidate in each constituency so as to prevent a division of Muslim votes.

Former Bangalore mayor Mumtaz Begum told IANS that should Modi become prime minister, “he should rise above religion and reach out to all sections, especially minorities, to make them feel secure”.

Shahed Minhas, a businessman also from Bangalore, said Muslims would have accepted even Modi if only “he accepts moral responsibility for all that happened under his leadership in 2002″.

He added: “We have no choice but to come to terms with Modi… If the majority of people want him to be prime minister, does our anti-BJP vote count?”

Lucknow’s Shias, who have always voted for Vajpayee, are rooting for Modi.

There are stray others too who say they have no issues with Modi.

Lucknow-based travel and tour operator Mohammed Saleem Haider says it is time to move on, and that he and his wife will be voting for the BJP. “I see no harm in giving him a chance. After all we all need development and prosperity.”

(Inputs for this story came from Mohd Shafeeq, Sheikh Qayoom, Fakir Balaji, Brij Khandelwal, Sanu George, Jatindra Dash, Jaideep Sarin, Nityanand Shukla, Quaid Najmi, Imran Khan, V. Jagannathan, Mohit Dubey and Gaurav Sharma.)