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Minorities optimistic

New Delhi, May 16: Minority leaders have expressed guarded optimism amid the euphoria over the BJP’s landslide victory, hoping that secularism would survive the political change and the new government would safeguard the interest of minorities.

“We congratulate the people of this country for the verdict and hope for the best. India is a democratic country and we have complete faith in the system,” Zafaryab Jilani, member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said of an election outcome that coincided with the Supreme Court acquitting all six minority youths charged in the 2002 Akshardham temple attack case.

Jilani said the verdict would test Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi because it had come on the back of the many promises he had made during the BJP’s campaign. “To deliver on promises is easier said than done.”

John Dayal, the secretary-general of the All India Christian Council, congratulated Modi for leading the BJP to a famous victory and hoped he would keep divisive forces at bay.

“We congratulate Modi. I do so hope he will soon articulate, in words and in policies and programmes, measures to allay the apprehensions of religious minorities and civil society who had watched the acrimonious campaign and the speeches of RSS stalwarts with some trepidation. We hope such elements will be kept at bay,” he said.

Dayal said minorities would need to find ways to express their concerns to the new government. “We respect democracy and the voice of the people, and accept the results with grace and optimism even. We will have to find out how we can tell the new government of our problems and our fears, and our expectations of a strong secularism, and hold it accountable for its misdeeds whenever it falters in giving us our security and our freedom of faith.”

Zafarul Islam Khan, who heads the All India Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella organisation of seven Muslim organisations, said Modi should work towards “inclusive growth” and not be influenced by divisive forces and their ideology.

“Modiji has got an absolute majority and should work towards the development of the country. Better sense should prevail,” he said, citing an instance of school textbooks being changed to allegedly suit hardliners in the NDA during its last stint in power.

John Robinson of the Evangelical Fellowship of India that represents about 45 churches across the country said the threat to Christians from Right-wing groups had always been cause for concern. “We are keeping our fingers crossed and expect Modiji will take care of everyone and instill a sense of confidence among minorities.

“We hope he will deal with miscreants sternly,” said Robinson, recounting how 22 churches were burnt in Gujarat in 2002 and several members of the community allegedly attacked in 1998 under the NDA regime. Zafar Mahmood, president of the Zakat foundation, the country’s largest Muslim charity, said the BJP needed to change its attitude towards minorities.

“If Modi wants to win the trust of minority communities, he has to come out of the Hindutva ideology. Several articles on the BJP website are full of hate and provocation.”

Mahmood, a former Indian Revenue Service official who had worked in the PMO in 2005-2006 under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was part of a conclave organised in Gandhinagar in June last year as part of Modi’s outreach towards the minority community. He had then raised questions about the BJP’s attitude towards Muslims through a PowerPoint presentation.

Father Cedric Prakash, a human rights activist based in Ahmedabad, said: “There is genuine apprehension and a sense of insecurity among religious minorities in the country as Modi belongs to the core RSS and Sangh Parivar ideology. We had seen what happened in 2002. Modi has to rise above religious lines. We are optimistic and hoping for the best. We will wait and see.”

 
 
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