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Indian politicians linked to riots to contest polls ‘Refugees are ‘political agents’ for Samajwadi Party’

NEW DELHI, March 20, (AFP): Two members of India’s main opposition Hindu nationalist party, who face criminal charges for inciting religious riots that killed 50 people last August, will stand in next month’s general election. Hukum Singh and Sanjeev Baliyan will contest seats for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in electorally crucial Uttar Pradesh state, where the August riots forced 50,000 Muslims to flee to refugee camps. The pair were named in the latest list of BJP candidates released at the weekend — and highlighted in a national newspaper on Thursday — for the elections to be held in April and May in the world’s biggest democracy.

The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, tipped to win the election, has been campaigning on a platform of reviving the flagging economy to benefit all religions, and steering clear of a Hindu nationalist agenda. Modi, a popular but divisive figure, has been dogged by suggestions he failed to stop anti- Muslim riots in 2002 in the western state of Gujarat, where he was chief minister. The riots left more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead. Singh, a member of the Uttar Pradesh state assembly, and Baliyan, a doctor, face preliminary charges for inciting last year’s riots between Hindus and Muslims in the Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh.

Local political leaders have been accused of encouraging the violence to polarise the state along religious lines, which in theory would make Hindus more likely to back the BJP. Singh, who will contest from the district of Kairana, defended his candidacy and called the police investigation a political conspiracy. “My name was dragged into the police complaint without any evidence, only for political purposes,” Singh told AFP. He also accused other political parties of what he called “minority Muslim appeasement” without elaborating. Singh accused hundreds of families who are still living in relief camps of being “political agents” for the rival Samajwadi Party in the upcoming polls. He elaborated his views in speaking with the PTI news agency, saying he would prevent refugees from the riot from voting as they were living “illegally” on government land.

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