India's Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi's gesture of inviting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony has raised hopes of a long-lasting peace between the arch rivals among Muslims of this country.
In direct contrast to his election pitch - where he spoke of a toughened stand against Pakistan - Narendra Modi, by this single gesture, has given a delightfully unexpected turn to the diplomatic course in the region. As much as the gesture stunned the leadership across the border, it has aroused hope among the people in India and Indian Muslims, especially, are construing it as a portend of a happy turn of events.
Muslims in India, the nation's largest minority, comprise 14 percent of its 1.2 billion people, and are the world's third largest Muslim population after Indonesia and Pakistan.
"It's a very good step by Mr. Modi. Although we can't expect all the festering wounds to heal overnight, but yes let me concede a very positive start has been made. We now hope that the issues between the two would also be solved in the near future," Maulana Jalaluddin Umari, president, Jamat-e-Islami Hind, told IANS.
Equally upbeat is SQR Ilyas, a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. "It's a very happy start to a new innings. The step is likely to improve relations. It reminds us of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's era when much headway was made in diplomacy with Pakistan," said Ilyas.
"Poor relations with Pakistan are in no one's interest. Both countries end up spending more than they normally should on defence, ruin bilateral trade and ultimately the common man suffers," Ilyas told IANS..
The invitation has allayed fears, at least for the moment, that relations with Pakistan may deteriorate under the Modi regime.
"Only communication can bridge the gap. The invite is a very good step, whatever the fear mongers may try to portray it as. Now, Pakistan should address India's concerns and a healthy relationship should develop that promotes regional peace," proffered Kamal Farooqi, a prominent Muslim voice and former chairman, Delhi Minorities Commission.
The incumbent chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission, Safdar H Khan, too sees the development as a welcome change.
"Both countries would benefit if good relations are maintained. In terms of trade, India can export machinery and edibles like tea to Pakistan that our neighbour is currently buying from other countries at a very high cost," Khan told IANS.
However, amid the euphoria, some people are still sceptical about the durability of the dialogue process.
"We can only hope that our relations with Pakistan would improve. But in the past we have seen that Pakistan does not stand by its resolve for too long. So let's not be too enthusiastic this time around," said Mahmood Madani of Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind.
"But yes, the gesture of extending an invite to the Pakistan prime minister should be appreciated," he said.