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Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 07:28 GMT
Violence mars Gujarat campaign
Congress Party scarves at a textile manufacturing unit in Ahmedabad
Election preparations are in full swing in Gujarat
Five people have died in Hindu-Muslim clashes in India's Gujarat state on the first day of campaigning for next month's assembly elections.

The deaths in Mahudha, a town north-west of the commercial capital, Ahmedabad, came as Chief Minister Narendra Modi took to the hustings.


Are they wrong to chant religious slogans in our country?

Chief Minister Narendra Modi
He travelled to the town of Godhra, where communal violence broke out in February this year, and delivered an appeal to the Hindu faithful.

Security is being increased across Gujarat for the elections to prevent any recurrence of the religious riots which swept the state in February, killing at least 1,000 people, mainly Muslims.

The violence, India's worst in a decade, began after the burning to death of 58 Hindu activists on a train in Godhra.

"The entire trouble in Godhra started because Hindu activists chanted Jai Shri Ram [Long Live Ram]," Mr Modi told thousands of cheering supporters in the town.

"Are they wrong to chant religious slogans in our country?"

'Gimmicks'

The elections are being seen as a crucial test for the main party in India's governing coalition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is also in power in Gujarat.

The BJP lost a humiliating string of state elections this year and faces another round next spring, ahead of general elections due by 2004.

A soldier walks past burnt and looted shops in Gomtipur district, Thursday November 8th
Fresh violence has increased security fears
The party has dismissed allegations that it is trying to cash in on religious sentiment in Gujarat, which has a long history of religious violence.

But opposition parties accuse it of crude political gimmicks to mobilise Hindu voters.

The main opposition Congress party is seeking to capitalise on voters who want an end to the violence and the economic disruption it has caused.

Poll arrangements

Monday's deaths coincided with a visit to Gujarat by the head of India's independent Election Commission, JM Lyngdoh, to review preparations for the elections.


We have made it clear that the dispensation of paramilitary forces will have to be concentrated in districts which are communally sensitive

Election chief JM Lyngdoh
The commission has said tens of thousands of paramilitary troops will be deployed.

It prevented the BJP calling snap elections in the summer, saying the state's wounds had not healed after the riots.

Speaking in Ahmedabad on Monday, Mr Lyngdoh said the commission was considering banning a proposed march by Hindu hardliners.

He also said that special arrangements were being made so that those displaced by the religious violence could cast their votes.

Polling booths are to be set up near refugee camps and those who sought shelter in other states will be able to vote by post.

The BJP held 114 seats in the outgoing 182-seat assembly. Congress had 64 and independents four.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sanjeev Srivastava
"Gujarat assembly elections are crucial to the BJP"
Gujarat conflict in-depth

Key vote

Tense state

Background

BBC WORLD SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

08 Nov 02 | South Asia
28 Oct 02 | South Asia
31 Oct 02 | South Asia
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