Narendra Modi ally says India’s ruling party suffers from perception it is anti-Muslim

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party is struggling to change a “perception” that it is against minority Muslims and lower-caste people, a political ally said, which could cost it votes in a general election due next year.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) trounced the opposition at the last election in 2014, but it has lost a handful of recent by-elections after opposition groups banded together.

Veteran politician Ram Vilas Paswan, a federal minister and the chief of the Lok Jan Shakti (People’s Power) Party, which is allied with the BJP and says it represents India’s socially backward classes, predicted another term for Modi.

But he said the BJP would have to work toward 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 polarized the population.

Since Modi came to power in 2014, hardline Hindu groups and cow protection vigilantes have carried out numerous attacks on Muslims accused of eating beef or killing cows.

Many Hindus believe cows are sacred and killing them is banned in most states.

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