BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi attempted to reach out to the Muslim community, assuring them of development along with the promise of preserving their ethos and culture. With 41 Lok Sabha seats going to polls in the ninth and final phase on May 12, Modi has vowed the minority community a better life than they have experienced under any "secular" dispensation and said he wants to see Muslims hold a copy of the Holy Koran in one hand and a laptop in the other.
In his recent interviews which appeared in the daily Urdu Rashtriya Sahara and weekly Nai Duniya, Modi insisted that secularism was not an electoral issue for him, but part of his ethos and civilisation. His earlier interview with Nai Duniya had created a furore, resulting in the expulsion of its editor Shahid Sidiqui form the Samajwadi Party.
Accusing the Congress of using secularism as a shield to fool the minorities, Modi said it has been used as a tool to create fear psychosis to deny the minorities their share in development. "I will not do it. I will give them equal opportunities and help abolish poverty, unemployment and illiteracy," he told Urdu Sahara. He said he would use education to reach out to the Muslim community. "Education will be my priority. I will encourage Muslims to hold the Koran in one hand and a laptop in the other," he said.
Modi told Sidiqui that for inclusive development, certain communities which have lagged behind need special attention. He was responding to a query on whether he would abolish special schemes for Muslims. The prime ministerial aspirant, however, said he would have a discussion on the significance of having a separate minority affairs ministry with the minority communities. Modi called for putting an end to the "skull cap culture" under which political parties distribute skull caps and use them to identify Muslims. "I believe the skull cap is a sacred religious symbol for Muslims... they wear it while offering prays. It should not be politicised, at least I don't favour it," he said.
Describing Urdu as a language of love, Modi said he would promote the language. He revealed that he has been translating his blogs in Urdu so that Muslims get to know him directly instead of building an opinion on the basis of hearsay.
The Gujarat chief minister also dismissed talk of him having threatened to nab and bring back dreaded gangster Dawood Ibrahim. "I am clear on Dawood. He is not a big issue for the country. There are many other issues," he clarified. He added that India and Pakistan have the common aim of ending poverty in the region and that both countries were grappling with the issue of terrorism, which needs to be stamped out.
On Kashmir, Modi said there is urgent need to rebuild confidence in the people of the Valley by ensuring their development and attending to their problems. He promised to continue the work started by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of addressing the Kashmir issue within the framework of democracy and humanity.