Salim Khan, Mahesh Bhatt
New Delhi, July 26: The idea of Nai Duniya interviewing Narendra Modi had cropped up during a chat this month at the Mumbai home of Bollywood scriptwriter Salim Khan, father of actor Salman Khan.
Director Mahesh Bhatt and Zafar Sareshwala, an investment consultant working out of Ahmedabad and Mumbai, were present at the interview, taken by editor and magazine owner Shahid Siddiqui.
Retired Gujarat bureaucrat H.K. Khan, who was state chief secretary in the early 1990s, had apparently been networking with Muslim opinion makers on Modi’s behalf for sometime.
It was Salim Khan who proposed that Siddiqui, a Samajwadi Party politician, interview Modi.
“When Israel and Palestine are at war, it makes no sense for you and me to issue statements from India. The Palestinians must talk to the likes of Ariel Sharon (former Israel Premier) to achieve a reconciliation,” Khan told The Telegraph.
“It doesn’t help Muslims to isolate a person like Modi. As long as that’s done, the divide will grow deeper.”
Sareshwala, who first met Modi at London’s St James Court Hotel in 2003, was more matter of fact.
“There are eight to 10 million Muslims in Gujarat. We need our schools, colleges and hospitals for which we need the government’s help. So the dialogue process is a must. Why not with Modi?” he said.
“We don’t want a confrontation with him. The Congress has behaved irresponsibly with Gujarati Muslims.”
Siddiqui sent a request to Modi’s office in Gandhinagar. A week later, Modi agreed to meet him but Siddiqui was told the chief minister wanted to preview the questions. The editor did not agree but gave Modi a broad framework.
“My preconditions were that I would ask him everything about 2002 and the plight of Muslims and that he would not abort the interview,” Siddiqui said.
During his occasional media interactions in the past, the mention of 2002 has often prompted Modi to walk out, even live on TV.
When Siddiqui met him at his Gandhinagar residence, Modi’s only request was that the conversation be videographed.
However, the weekly’s move seems to have displeased many Muslims.
“You don’t need to kill a snake to find out whether it is lethal. You don’t need to probe Modi’s mind to discover if he is anti-Muslim,” said Masoom Moradabadi, editor of Urdu daily Jadid Khabar and an All India Muslim Personal Law Board member.
The Samajwadi Party distanced itself from Siddiqui, who is back after a stint with the BSP.
“This is a systematic plan by Modi’s advisers to reach out to the country’s Muslims,” party national secretary Kamal Farooqui said.
But Siddiqui was unfazed. “It has nothing to do with my party. My allegiance is to my paper,” he said.
Siddiqui has in the past been in the Congress and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal.
The Samajwadis had sent him to the Rajya Sabha but he quit when Mulayam Singh Yadav bailed the UPA government out during the July 2008 crisis over the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Siddiqui joined the BSP but returned before this year’s Uttar Pradesh polls.