Ahmedabad, Jan. 13: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said those guilty of taking part in the Gujarat riots would be punished and urged for reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims as he courted voters in this violence-scarred state.
“People want peace.... And fire should be lit only to make food and not set a house ablaze. Those guilty will be punished and I trust the Gujarat government has taken all steps to ensure peace and prosperity in the state,” he said, asking people to “forget and forgive”.
“I saw three pavilions set up by minority communities. It is a good beginning. The minority should be protected, we should live in harmony and the bloodshed that we saw in 2002 should be stopped,” Vajpayee said while inaugurating the Vishwa Gujarati Parivar Mahotsav, a conference of non-resident Gujaratis organised by the state government.
In a symbolic gesture, the Prime Minister was garlanded by a Muslim kite-maker, an indication that chief minister Narendra Modi is hoping for a change of image among the minorities. Modi is wooing the Dawoodi Bohras, Parsis and other minority communities to make himself acceptable to them.
Buoyed by positive growth forecasts, Vajpayee — who yesterday in Hyderabad set the tone and pace of the poll battle ahead — said the country was emerging as an economic superpower and “we should usher in a new age”. Repeating the chief minister’s new slogan — “Gujarat can do and Gujarati will” — he praised Gujaratis as people capable of facing any challenge.
Stressing that the Golden Quadrilateral highway project would save fuel worth nearly Rs 8,000 crore, he said other national projects like the Narmada Yojna would also benefit the states and the nation.
“The Supreme Court has put on my shoulders the responsibility of raising the height of the Narmada dam to 110m. Gujarat will benefit the most from this and I will ensure that people of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh who would have to be relocated due to this project would be done so accordingly,” Vajpayee said.
The Prime Minister felicitated five distinguished Gujaratis — industrialists Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata, economist Jagdish Bhagwati, US-based doctor Dinesh Patel and non-resident Gujarati Anand Shah who is here to work with slum dwellers in the state.
Vajpayee expressed hope that India-Pakistan relations will improve for lasting peace in the region, but made it clear that India will not accept any condition for peace. “The entire world wants peace. We, too, want peace, but there will be no deal in securing peace. We will protect our borders and our nation’s peace,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the US decision to cooperate with India on civilian nuclear energy was another manifestation of the international community’s trust in India as a responsible nuclear power.
“After the Pokhran blasts many nations turned their face away from us.... ,” he said. “Now, the situation has changed.”