This Article is From Feb 13, 2013

Why this Muslim-majority town in Gujarat voted for Narendra Modi's BJP

Salaya, Jamnagar: Salem Mohammad Baghaad's resume reveals a history of political promiscuity. The 45-year-old has, at different points in his career as a member of the local corporation in his hometown of Salaya, represented the Congress, the Samata Party and others.

But it is his partnership with the BJP that has delivered the richest returns. Yesterday, Mr Baghaad and 26 other Muslims won their seats in the corporation contesting for the BJP. Narendra Modi's party will, for the first time, govern the local corporation in Salaya, a town where Muslims form 90 percent of the population.

"Honestly, joining the BJP was a tough decision for me," Mr Baghaad says. "But I was confident about myself, about my decision. I knew if I joined hands with Mr Modi, it will mean more benefits for the town and more development."

In 2010, Mr Baghaad and four other Muslims joined the BJP and won the nagarpalika or municipal polls. And suddenly, Salaya had a chance. The party began to pull in more funds for development in the area and Mr Baghaad convinced other Muslims to join.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who was re-elected for a fourth term in December, has spent years on an image makeover which makes him identifiable with the development of Gujarat rather than the state's communal riots of 2002, in which more than 1,000 Muslims were killed on his watch. His most extreme critics accuse him of complicity in the riots; others suggest he didn't do enough to stop them. Neither set of allegations have been proved.

For those like Mr Baghaad, doubts about affiliating with the BJP were far outnumbered by the fear of being excluded from Gujarat's development story.

With a population of over 33,000, the town till a decade ago was notorious for smuggling at its small-time port. Other than the anti-terror squad, nobody seemed to be looking out for Salaya. Roads, electricity, water were in short supply. Now, concrete roads, uninterrupted power, streetlights have made dramatic appearances.

"It was like Narendra Modi opened the government coffers for us. Whatever money we wanted for development came flowing in. And it hasn't stopped," Mr Baghaad says.

In December, Mr Modi fielded no Muslim candidate for the 182 seats in Assembly elections. Opponents said this proves he is not secular. The BJP points to Salaya to assert that the party chooses its candidates carefully based on the likelihood of their success, and not on religion.