NEW DELHI: India’s Narendra Modi, the opposition frontrunner to become the country’s next prime minister, has highlighted his state’s record on religious tolerance, saying “not a single riot” had occurred in the last 10 years.
At an election rally in the northern city of Lucknow, Modi trumpeted social and economic development in western Gujarat, where he has been chief minister since 2001 — a year later it was the scene of deadly communal riots.
In front of several hundred thousand supporters, Modi sought to contrast Gujarat with the electorally crucial state of Uttar Pradesh where he said crime, including against women and religious minorities, was spiralling.
“Within a span of one year 150 riots took place in Uttar Pradesh, but in the last 10 years, not a single riot, not even a curfew has occurred in Gujarat,” Modi told the crowd in Lucknow, the state’s capital.
Modi was referring to clashes between Muslims and Hindus around Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district last year that killed at least 50 people and forced thousands to flee to refugee camps.
Political parties are battling hard in Uttar Pradesh, a key swing state which is home to almost 200 million people — nearly 19 percent of them Muslim — ahead of general elections due in coming months.
Modi, a leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is expected to trump the governing national Congress party after a decade in power.
But Modi, who has presented himself as a business-friendly candidate, remains a divisive leader tarnished by the religious riots in Gujarat in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.
He has been dogged by accusations he did too little to prevent the carnage.
On Sunday, Modi accused the Uttar Pradesh government of neglecting the Muslim population, leaving them among the poorest in the state.