Muslims fear Modi 2.0
AZAMGARH, May 17: At their usual evening gathering, six retired Muslim academics outdo each other with gloomy predictions if Narendra Modi is re-elected prime minister in India's polls ending Sunday.
"We are one step away from being turned into second-class citizens," Mohiuddin Azad said in Azamgarh, a northern city long associated with Islamic scholars and poets. "If Modi again comes to power we are doomed," said the retired Arabic professor from Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state.
Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) owes its origins to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militaristic group that has long espoused "Hindutva", or Hindu hegemony, and making India an exclusively Hindu state.
India, however, is also home to 170 million Muslims, the world's second-largest Muslim population, in the Hindu-majority but officially secular nation of 1.3 billion. Since Modi stormed to power in 2014, many Muslims feel under threat.
Several cities with names rooted in India's Islamic Mughul past have been re-named, while some school textbooks have been changed to downplay Muslims' contributions to India. A string of lynchings of Muslims by Hindu mobs over so-called cow protection -- a sacred animal for many Hindus -- and other hate crimes has sown fear and despair in the community.
There has never been much appetite among Muslims for their own political party, with many feeling that the existing parties can represent them. But this is changing. In the outgoing parliament there are 24 Muslim MPs out of 545, none of them from the BJP, down from a peak of 49 in the early 1980s and the lowest since independence in 1947.
Modi's BJP has fielded seven Muslim candidates in the current election -- the same as 2014 when none won -- while the main opposition Congress led by Rahul Gandhi has 30. -AFP