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Gujarat Muslims fear fresh violence after poll results

Muslims in Gujarat are moving to safer areas, fearing fresh riots once poll results are declared.

india Updated: Dec 15, 2002 01:38 IST

Muslims in riot-ravaged western Gujarat have started moving to safer areas, fearing fresh violence once results of Assembly elections are declared.

All the results of Thursday's vote, in which 61.7 per cent of 33 million registered voters cast ballots will come by Sunday afternoon.

Muslim-dominated areas were tense as residents made plans to flee should violence erupt. Others had already departed to safer areas.

"The fear in our heart is deep rooted as we have seen extreme cruelty inflicted on us," said 45-year-old Rehmat Bibi, a resident of Ahmedabad's Naroda Patiya.

"Many of us have already moved to other safe places, to our relatives. I am staying here, but may have to leave if violence breaks out again soon."

Bibi lost her son-in-law and daughter in sectarian violence that has ravaged the state since February, leaving some 2,000 Muslim dead, human rights groups said.

The violence in Gujarat was triggered February 27 after a train carrying VHP activists was torched by a mob, believed to be Muslim, killing 58.

Exit polls have indicated the election will be won by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which underpinned its campaigning with a message of hardline Hindu nationalism.

But such polls are notoriously unreliable in India and political analysts are predicting a photo finish, giving the opposition Congress party a chance to spring a surprise.

According to some exit polls, more than 44 per cent of Hindus are believed to have voted for Congress.

But even with hoped-for success for the opposition party, local Muslim social workers fear a BJP loss could spark further incidents of sectarian violence.

"Whoever wins is not going to make a difference to the life of these affected people. But they fear that a BJP defeat could lead to violence after the results," said Nazeer Khan, a teacher at Patiya.

"The fear is further aggravated as there is no trust after what has happened here. Even the police are not trusted, despite their round the clock presence."

Gujarat's police are widely accused of turning a blind eye during the peak of the riots, and some have alleged that police were even active participants in the killings.

Muslim social organisations, meanwhile, sought to calm riot victims.

"I do not see any need for fear and we are persuading people to stay home. Some of them have left, but I am sure many will stay as adequate security is being maintained here," said Addul Hameed, a member of the Islamic Relief Committee.

Many affected people were moving to newly-built homes, leaving an emptiness in some neighbourhoods.

"It is not that there is mass exodus of Muslims from their homes. Yes, some have left as fear is very deep. But then we do not expect any trouble, whoever wins the elections," said Hameed.

"Many of them (Muslims) are now like nomads. Whenever there is fear or any major festival of any community, their fears and insecurity rise. It will take some years before their wounds heal."

Caretaker Chief Minister Narendra Modi insisted there was no need for Muslims to be concerned.

"The country is ruled by the BJP. Has any Muslim left India and gone to Pakistan?," asked the BJP leader.

First Published: Dec 14, 2002 17:57 IST