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India election: Narendra Modi casts vote as fears grow among the country’s Muslims | World News

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Narendra Modi has cast his vote in the Indian general election amid growing anxiety among minority communities.

The prime minister voted at a school in Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat, calling on “countrymen” to “vote in large numbers” as the third phase of the 44-day election gets under way.

Almost a billion people are registered to vote, with Mr Modi running for a third term in office and expecting to win.

But the likely prospect of his victory may concern the country’s Muslims, who make up 14% of the population and feel they have been targeted by right-wing mobs tacitly supported by the government.

Mr Modi stirred the debate in his campaign rally in Rajasthan last month, accusing opposition party Congress of appeasement politics over its suggestion to levy inheritance tax to redistribute wealth.

The leader went on the offensive, changing tact in his campaign to attack the opposition for having a pro-Muslim bias.

He said: “When they were in power, they said Muslims have the first right over the nation’s wealth.

“This means they will collect your wealth and distribute it to those who have many children. To the infiltrators. Do you think your hard-earned money should be given to infiltrators?”

The crowd responded with chants of “no”.

Narendra Modi arrived to cheering crowds. Pic: AP
Narendra Modi arrived to cheering crowds. Pic: AP

Opposition parties have pressed on with issues of high unemployment rates, inflation, the crippling cost of living and the alleged corruption of the past 10 years under Mr Modi.

For a decade, the leader has dominated India’s political space – with a mix of muscular religious identity and nationalism, he has crafted his image as a leader of the majority Hindu nation that has taken its rightful place.

Mr Modi’s silence on the many instances of lynching of Muslim men for alleged trading in cow meat and bulldozing of homes belonging to Muslims has been deafening.

Read more: Sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims on the rise

Dismissing these allegations, a spokesperson for Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Nalin Kohli, said: “Show me a scheme of the government of India under Prime Minister Modi that targets delivery of benefit to a person on the basis of religion and denies another on the basis of religion.

“Not one. If you’re poor, if you are a beneficiary, you will receive the benefits – be it Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist or Parsi.”

In an interview to the Times Network, Modi said: “We are not against Islam or Muslims.”

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Deadly sectarian violence in India

He added: “The community must introspect. Think. The country is progressing.

“If your community is feeling deprived, what’s the reason for it? Why didn’t you get benefits of government schemes when Congress was in government.

“I am against the vote-bank game, which is being played on the basis of religion.”

Crucial phase

This phase, which is the third of seven, is significant for the BJP as it won more than 80% of the constituencies in same period during the previous 2019 general election.

All of the 26 seats in Gujarat that the BJP won in 2014 and in 2019 are up for grabs, and the party is confident it will make it a hattrick.

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How will voting in India work?

In the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra, the party faces a tougher challenge as Congress and its regional allies have gained traction.

With today’s polls complete, 283 constituencies of the total 543 will have voted.

Read more: India elections: Can anyone beat Narendra Modi?

Turnout of 66.14% and 66.71% in the first two phases respectively have been marginally lower than corresponding phases five years ago, with analysts blaming the summer heat and the lack of a single strong issue to motivate voters.

Mr Modi hailed the first two phases for passing without violence and said “voting is a great gift”.

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“I appeal to the people to vote in large numbers,” he added. “There is great importance of daan [charity] in our country and, in the same spirit, the countrymen should vote as much as possible.”

But he has much convincing to do, especially to minorities, that he is prime minister of all 1.4 billion citizens.

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