MUMBAI (AFP) - The militant attacks on Mumbai have led to fears that India could see a sectarian backlash as Hindu and Muslim groups exploit mutual suspicion for political and religious ends. Underlying tensions between Muslims and Hindus that have simmered for decades could flare, if not in Mumbai then elsewhere in the country, in reaction to three days of carnage that officials have blamed on militants aligned with Pakistan, members of both communities told AFP. The majority of people from both sides of the sectarian divide wish to live in peace, said commentators, writers and ordinary Indians. Right-wing Hindu groups could be expected to use extremists' involvement in the attacks to garner support before next year's national elections, said writer Javed Anand. But he added that both Hindu and Muslim communities were "in denial about terrorism in their own midst," which he said was "a nationwide issue." Heavily-armed youths struck at a dozen sites late Wednesday, including luxury hotels, a hospital and a Jewish centre, taking hostages as they seized some of the city's iconic buildings, including the Taj Mahal Hotel. The Taj was finally cleared early Saturday with at least 195 people reported dead and nearly 300 others wounded. Officials including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have fingered "elements" in Pakistan as being behind the attacks, and Indian media have alleged that one assailant taken alive was Pakistani. Singh's Congress-led government has been labelled weak by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition group, which says the government is soft on terror " an issue Anand said will be a pivot of the party's platform for elections that must be held by next May. Anand, secretary general of activist group Muslims for a Secular Democracy, said the BJP was likely to use the Mumbai attacks to exploit a Hindu prejudice that "all terrorists are Muslims and all Muslims are loyal to Pakistan." "On the Muslim side there is a belief that Muslims never do anything wrong, so they never get to the point of dealing with it within their own community," he said. Referring to a government report released in late 2006, he said Muslims trailed majority Hindus, and even other minorities, in everything from literacy and child mortality to bank loans received and bus stops in their villages. Findings of the Sachar Committee exacerbated feelings of marginalisation and victimisation among Muslims, who account for around 13 percent of India's 1.1 billion people, he said. Tightened security in Mumbai following the attacks meant that a backlash could be felt elsewhere in the country, said newspaper editor Kumar Ketkar. But "a sort of 'cold war' tension between the two communities in Mumbai will be further intensified" by the attacks, said Ketkar, editor of Marathi-language Loksatta. Ketkar dated communal tensions back to the post-independence Partition of India in 1947 that created the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and led to horrific bloodletting between Muslims and Hindus. "Fanatics and extremists from both groups have been trying to inflame sentiments and emotions, and sometimes it has even seemed as if the extremists on both sides are acting in unison to destroy the fabric of the city," he said. Police are investigating the involvement of right-wing Hindu groups in recent attacks on Muslim targets, including mosques, believed to have been in retaliation for a wave of deadly blasts across the country. Indian media reported last month that police were probing the possible involvement of Hindu extremists in two separate bomb blasts in September that killed seven people in the west of the country. Newspapers said the investigation was looking at whether a right-wing group with links to the youth wing of the BJP had a hand in the attacks in Malegaon and Modasa cities on September 29. Ketkar and others said repercussions from the Mumbai attacks are likely to be felt across India, with mutual Hindu-Muslim suspicion exploited by right-wing Hindu groups to boost BJP support. "It is 'divide and rule' politics in the race for votes," financial consultant Paresh Shah said. "You will see greater support for the BJP as a result. It is very negative for Indian sectarian relations, and it is very bad for a democratic country," he said. Another worshipper at the temple said: "If it doesn't inflame tensions here in Mumbai, something will happen elsewhere in the country " it always happens like this."