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Paswan Says BJP Suffers from Perception That it is Anti-Muslim

India's 1.3 billion people are about 80 percent Hindu and 14 percent Muslim, according to the latest census data. Backward classes make up about three-quarters of the Hindu population.

Reuters

Updated:March 30, 2018, 3:48 PM IST
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Paswan Says BJP Suffers from Perception That it is Anti-Muslim
India's Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan speaks during an interview with Reuters in New Delhi (File photo: Reuters)
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New Delhi: The BJP is struggling to change a "perception" that it is against minority Muslims and lower-caste people, key NDA ally Ram Vilas Paswan has said, which could cost it votes in 2019 general election.

Union minister and the chief of the Lok Jan Shakti Party chief Paswan said his party represents socially backward classes, predicted another term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But he said the BJP would have to work towards changing its image as a group that caters mainly to upper-caste Hindus.

"Whatever the government is doing it is doing for everyone; even for the minority community it has done a lot," Paswan said in an interview in his bungalow, seated on a couch under a huge oil painting of himself.

"But despite everything, the perception is not changing among the minorities and the scheduled castes (socially backward classes) irrespective of the work being done."

India's 1.3 billion people are about 80 percent Hindu and 14 percent Muslim, according to the latest census data. Backward classes make up about three-quarters of the Hindu population.

Critics say the BJP's Hindu nationalist agenda has polarised the population.

There have been widespread reports of cow vigilantes attacking Muslims accusing them of eating beef and killing cows.

'WELL-MEANING'

A crackdown on slaughter houses, tanneries and leather factories, mostly run by Muslims, has also hit a large number of lower-caste Hindus who transport cattle and work in tanneries.

Paswan said the opposition could take advantage of the BJP's pro-upper class Hindu image and it needed to be countered aggressively.

The BJP said Paswan's comment was a "well-meaning observation from an ally" but that the party has "foiled repeated attempts of the opposition Congress to create an impression that the BJP is losing the perception battle".

"We need to be cognizant of the fact that opposition parties have been raising a bogey of non-issues, but so far they've failed," said BJP spokesman GVL Narasimha Rao.

When Modi won office in 2014, his party or its partners ruled only seven of India's 29 states. Today, it is in power in 21 of them and has replaced Congress as the party with strongest nationwide presence.

But in the recent Lok Sabha by-elections for Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats, the BJP suffered defeat and two regional parties have walked out of the NDA coalition.

Paswan, whose party enjoys considerable support from the Muslim community in his home state of Bihar, said ending ties with the BJP-led NDA was "unthinkable".

"This is essentially a government of the BJP, they have an absolute majority. Still, Modi has given space to allies like us," said Paswan, a 10-time member of Parliament who began his political career in 1969.

"Can't even think of leaving the NDA. No one has approached me and I am happy where I am."
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