Minority wind in Modi sails

Ahmedabad, Feb. 13: If Narendra Modi's Delhi dreams needed another shot in the arm, it came yesterday ' from nine Muslim-majority municipalities.

As if that wasn't sweet enough, the BJP's winning tally of nagarpalikas in Sunday's municipal elections included a clean sweep of a minority-dominated coastal town where 24 of the party's 27 candidates were Muslims.

In 2008, not a single BJP candidate won from Salaya, Jamnagar, where Muslims account for 95 per cent of the town's population. "This time the BJP not only won all the 27 seats but as many as 24 of the candidates, all first-timers, were Muslims," said Kamlesh Sayani, the party's Salaya chief.

In the Assembly elections two months ago, the BJP had not fielded a single Muslim candidate in the state, even in minority-dominated seats.

The party has won 47 of the state's 76 nagarpalikas that voted on Sunday, but it's the victory in minority-dominated areas like Salaya that must have thrilled the leadership.

Although the ripple effects of municipal polls rarely travel far, the Salaya results are significant as they have come in the middle of a debate swirling around the possibility of Modi becoming a contender for Prime Minister.

The Modi camp is expected to send a signal to sceptical allies like Nitish Kumar by portraying the sweep as a sign of the BJP leader's acceptability among the minorities despite the shadow of the 2002 riots.

Sayani appeared to mirror the sentiment when he said it was Modi's "magic" and harmonious business relations between Hindus and Muslims that worked for the party in the fishing town.

The man responsible for the BJP's victory in Salaya, Salemamad Bhagad, a 53-year-old local strongman who joined the party 10 months ago at an event attended by Modi, echoed Sayani. "I was invited by both the Congress and Narendra Modi to join their parties. But I chose Modi in the interest of my town and my fishing community," Bhagad, who is the president of the Salaya municipality, said.

Bhagad and his wife Resmaben, also a councillor, have both received an invite from the chief minister. Sources said it wasn't surprising at all because not only had the BJP captured Salaya for the first time but had also made a clean sweep of the town.

Modi can also flaunt another comment by Bhagad. The councillor said he believed Modi was "no longer a Hindu hardliner".

According to the results declared yesterday, the BJP has won 1,151 out of a total 1,919 seats. The Congress won 447. The BJP had won the municipal elections in 2008 too, but its tally this time was higher.

The results, barely a year before the Lok Sabha elections, don't augur well for the Congress, which prevailed in only nine municipalities, half the number it won last time.

Although the party's Gujarat chief Arjun Modhwadia said the Congress won 19, state Election Commission officials trashed the claim.

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