by Peerzada Arshad Hamid
SRINAGAR, Indian-controlled Kashmir, April 11 (Xinhua) -- As polling is underway for India's 16th general elections and millions of Indians are casting votes to elect their representatives for Lok Sabha (lower house of Indian parliament), prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi's persona has been scrutinized by the minority Muslims in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) or Indian Peoples Party, the right- wing and Hindu nationalist group, is projecting Modi as their PM candidate to counter Congress party.
Muslims in Indian states are wary about Modi and his hardliner Hindutva poster boy image. The media has been quoting Muslim voters as saying they fear BJP's coming to power under Modi.
"How can we forget the recently organized brutal riots in Muzaffarnagar that saw Muslims men killed, their women raped and families uprooted from their lands," Mohammed Qais told Xinhua over telephone from Uttar Pradesh.
"Amith Shah, the right-hand man of Modi and anti-Muslim propagandist recently toured Uttar Pradesh, whipping up a communal frenzy and telling Hindus the ongoing election is an opportunity to take revenge for their insults."
India's history is chequered with Hindu-Muslim riots. Hindu nationalists seem to be fanning the situation and pursuing a hard- line religious agenda that sees the Muslim minority at the receiving end.
"Haven't the world seen what happened to Muslims under Modi in Gujarat way back in 2002," said Qais.
Modi is a controversial figure in Indian politics and was blamed for doing little to stop the 2002 religious riots in Gujarat. The pogrom, worst in recent Indian history, saw more than 1,000 Muslims killed and thousands displaced across Gujarat in 2002.
Modi has consistently denied any wrongdoing during the riots.
In his rallies, Modi tried to show that he is a moderate nationalist, and talked about economic development and good governance as his main political agenda.
He has been attacking Congress party for corruption scams and slammed the Gandhis for running affairs of Congress party on family terms.
Moderate separatist alliance, the Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq sees this "anti- Muslim" leader with optimism and declared they would be open to dialogue even with Modi-led government provided he emulates Vajpayee.
"The BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, while heading NDA government, had a clear stand on Kashmir and showed the desire and political will to resolve the problem but the 10 years of Congress- led UPA rule has reversed the work done by Vajpayee," Farooq told Friday afternoon congregation recently in Srinagar's Jamia Masjid (grand mosque).
Like Farooq, the region's main opposition pro-India Peoples Democratic Party also sees a ray of hope in Modi but remains guarded.
"A section of people in Kashmir think Modi will be able to take certain tough decisions regarding Kashmir, decisions that Vajpayee took," Mehbooba Mufti, the PDP president, told the media. "We must not forget that when the BJP comes to power, it has courage to take certain bold and unconventional decisions."
The National Conference headed by Abdullahs has been castigating BJP and Modi for dividing the country. They are running a pre-poll alliance with Congress party.
However, the head of hard-line separatist alliance Syed Ali Geelani does not subscribe to views of his moderate counterpart and describes Modi as "killer of Muslims."
"Vajpayee had no policy over Kashmir and it is surprising that some pro-freedom parties are praising the efforts of Vajpayee," reads a statement issued by Geelani.
Modi last month said they would follow path showed by Vajpayee on Kashmir, if BJP comes to power. During his first public rally in Jammu he sought a debate on Article 370 of Indian Constitution, a demand then seen as the departure from BJP's long held position.
Article 370 is a special provision that grants special status to Indian-controlled Kashmir which otherwise is not applicable to any other Indian state within the Union of India.
BJP had always demanded abrogation of Article 370. However Modi 's words seemed short lived as the demand for abrogation of Article 370 figures conspicuously in BJP's 2014 election manifesto.
The political analysts in the region seem to be perplexed over the issue.
"Narendra Modi has not said anything about Kashmir that we can read into it the Kashmir specific agenda. Other than resorting to Congress party bashing, he hasn't said anything," said Prof. Rekha Chowdhary of political science department in Jammu.
"Vajpayee being a statesman had a personal policy on Kashmir and by virtue of which was able to push it forward despite being contrary to what BJP was stood for."
According to Chowdhary he and BJP are even silent on the issue of how to deal with Pakistan.
During the ongoing elections the Congress party is seeking to regain power under leadership of Rahul Gandhi, the fourth generation scion of India's powerful Nehru-Gandhi clan. He is facing Modi.
The governments in India were run by alliances since 1989 as no single party had won majority in the elections.