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India Rulers Call for Hindu, Muslim Peace

December 16, 2002

AHMADABAD, India (AP) _ After a sweeping election victory that opponents said was won by stoking religious tensions, India’s ruling party called for an end to bloody confrontations between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority in western Gujarat state.

``For the sake of God, for the sake of Allah, stop dividing Gujarat,″ Narendra Modi, state leader of the victorious Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, said Sunday.

Despite the call for peace, a Hindu BJP worker was stabbed to death late Sunday night by Muslims at a parade to celebrate its election victory in the central city of Rajkot.

In a separate attack, a member of the opposition Congress party was stabbed and killed in Vadodara, a town 70 miles east of Ahmadabad, Gujarat’s commercial capital.

Tensions between Hindus and Muslims have intensified since the results were announced Sunday for the state elections held last week.

On Monday, six shops and four roadside kiosks, belonging to Hindus and Muslims, were set on fire by rioting mobs in Vadodara.

Six people were injured, including one from gunshot wounds when police opened fire to disperse the mobs, said D.D. Tuteja, Vadodara police commissioner.

The violence followed the announcement of results of the election that gave the nationalist BJP 126 state assembly seats, proving a two-thirds majority for its second term.

Opponents said Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister, did little to control religious riots, which broke out in February and lasted three months. Most of those killed were Muslims.

Critics say the BJP played on Hindu fears and raised animosity against Muslims through the campaign _ a tactic that some fear it might use in a series of upcoming elections in other parts of India and the country’s general election in two years.

The opposition Congress party has asserted that this tactic poses a threat to India’s tradition of secular government.

Analysts in neighboring Pakistan also warned that the results in Gujarat could signal a trend of nationalism that could make it harder for the two nuclear-armed nations to achieve peace.

``It will breed extremism in the whole of South Asia,″ said Talat Massoud, a retired army general.

In any case, the results in Gujarat are seen as a victory for BJP Prime Minister Atal Bahari Vajpayee.

``People have again put their faith in us and given us a chance to change the map of Gujarat, to make it the base for preparing for elections in other states,″ he said.

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