- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2002

AHMEDABAD, India (AP) Authorities in Gujarat vowed yesterday to prevent any new explosion of Hindu-Muslim violence as the western state prepared for elections with nearly 100,000 security troops on alert.
The Thursday election is a key test for Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules the state, because a convincing victory in Gujarat could spur the party to call federal elections before they are due in 2004, analysts say.
Gujarat saw India's worst religious violence in a decade this year when hundreds of people, most of them minority Muslims, were killed in clashes with Hindus. Official figures put the death toll at nearly 1,000, while nongovernment groups put it at 2,500.
"All security arrangements for the polls have been completed, and I can assure you that there will be no violence during the elections," Ashok Narayan, Gujarat's top interior ministry official, said yesterday.
"It's going to be peaceful, free and fair." He said 40,000 troops had been brought in from elsewhere in India.
Gujarat is one of the few states the BJP still controls, and analysts say the vote could test the appeal of an aggressive brand of Hindu nationalism the party has been pushing there.
Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani dismissed speculation that a bad result for the BJP in Gujarat might weaken its position in the federal coalition.
"The Gujarat elections will have no impact on the center. It will be limited to Gujarat," Mr. Advani told a BJP election rally in Gujarat's main city, Ahmedabad.
Opinion polls project a photo finish in the state election between the BJP and its main rival, Congress.
"I'm quite sure the voters in Gujarat will give the BJP a clear mandate and enable us to continue with the good work," Mr. Advani said.
An official of the independent election commission said special voting arrangements had been made in some cities.
"We have set up special polling booths in minority-dominated areas, so that Muslims don't have to go to Hindu areas to vote," said the official.
Campaigning has been largely peaceful, but some Muslims were apprehensive.
"There are rumors that there will be violence on Thursday just to scare away Muslims from voting," said taxi driver Feroz Ali. Muslims in Gujarat usually support the opposition Congress.
Hindu-Muslim rioting erupted in February after a mob firebombed a train carrying Hindu activists, killing 59 persons.

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