Ideological parent of Modi's party criticises poll campaign

By Tanvi Mehta

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -The ideological parent of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party has criticised bitter campaigning by both the ruling party and the opposition in the recent general election, in a rare public comment on politics.

Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), also demanded urgent attention be given to the strife-torn remote state of Manipur, where there has been over one year of violence, a rare security failure during Modi's rule.

Modi took charge as India's prime minister for a third term on Sunday, but unlike the previous tenures, his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was unable to secure a majority and relied on regional allies to form a coalition government.

Modi began public life as a publicist of the RSS, a Hindu right-wing organisation that is credited with being the force behind his subsequent rise to power. The BJP is closely affiliated to the RSS.

In his first comments after the election result last week, Bhagwat said the election should be viewed as competition, and not war, and criticised parties for comments that stoked religious divisions.

"The kind of things that were said, the way the two sides castigated each other... the way no one cared about social divisions being created because of what was being done... How will the country operate like this," he said on Monday in the city of Nagpur.

"The opposition is not an opponent," he said, in what appeared to be a dig at the BJP.

The election campaign was marked by Modi's criticism of the opposition for allegedly favouring India's 200 million minority Muslims - a change of tack after low voter turnout in the initial phases became a cause of concern.

The opposition accused him and the BJP of targeting Muslims to woo hardline Hindu voters, a charge Modi denied saying he doesn't do "Hindu-Muslim politics".

"The government has been formed, and the government is strong. It will do good work and development is our agenda," Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal told broadcaster CNN-News18 when asked to respond to Bhagwat's comments.

Chandrachur Singh, who teaches politics at Delhi's Hindu College, said Bhagwat's comments were not aimed at Modi.

"It's an attempt to ensure that the political culture underlining our parliamentary democracy doesn't get vitiated and that it operates on a healthy balance of ideas and perspectives," Singh said.

Bhagwat also talked about Manipur, where fighting between the majority Meitei and minority Kuki communities over economic benefits has killed at least 220 people and displaced 60,000 in the last year.

"Manipur is still burning," Bhagwat said. "Who is going to pay attention to it? It is a duty to deal with it on priority."

Modi has not visited the northeastern state, where his party controls the local government, despite crisscrossing the country conducting rallies during the campaign. At the general election, the BJP lost both parliamentary seats in Manipur.

(Reporting by Tanvi Mehta and Sakshi Dayal; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)