NEW DELHI: Hindu hardliner Narendra Modi, tipped to be India’s next premier, sought on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) to reassure the nation’s big Muslim minority he would respect their traditions, as 14 people died in the worst violence since the start of a marathon election.
Modi’s statements in a rare television interview to be aired late on Saturday came as police confirmed Maoist rebels in insurgency-hit central India killed 14 people, most of them involved in helping stage the general election.
Protection of majority Hindu India’s secular status has surfaced as a key election issue with critics worrying Modi’s Hindu nationalist rhetoric could stoke religious tensions in a country where 13 percent of the 1.2-billion population is Muslim.
In interview exerpts on India TV’s website, Modi, leading the campaign of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said he refused to don a skullcap presented to him by a Muslim cleric three years ago because he did not want “to hoodwink people.”
“I believe in respecting traditions of all religions. But at the same time, I have to respect my own tradition as well although I respect all traditions. I can’t hodwink people by wearing such skullcaps.
“But I believe in taking action against those who show disrespect to other’s caps,” said Modi, chief minister of the western of Gujarat. Many Muslims wear skullcaps.
Modi, whose state has thrived economically under his leadership, paints himself as a pro-business reformist who alone can revive the economy of the world’s largest democracy and opinion polls favor the BJP to win the elections, ousting the scandal-tainted Congress party after a decade of rule.