New Delhi, Jan. 10: After screaming himself hoarse about Mian Musharraf, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has decided to take a leaf or two from Pakistan’s experiment with the modernisation of madarsas.
At a press conference today, his first after being re-elected chief minister, Modi said he had constituted a task force on Gujarat’s madarsas, mandated to modernise the Islamic schools like Pakistan and Malaysia had. “The task force is studying the madarsas in Pakistan and Malaysia to see what can be done with the ones in Gujarat,” he said.
Modi also announced he would enact an anti-conversion law termed the Freedom of Religion Bill. He explained that the legislation would incorporate features from similar laws in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Arunachal Pradesh and, most recently, Tamil Nadu.
“With the help of constitutional experts, (we would) formulate a legislation which would be strictly within the parameters of the Constitution”, he added.
Modi claimed the Bill was bound to provoke a “serious debate” but refused to answer queries on whether it would be directed against the state’s principal minority communities. He also declined to say whether it would have a provision enabling the proselytised to “re-convert” to Hinduism — something the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had demanded in the past.
Asked to confirm reports that his government proposed to close cases against those accused in the post-Godhra riots, the chief minister — who parried every other question with sarcasm and frivolity — turned stone-faced and said: “From day one we emphasised that Gujarat is a law abiding state. Whatever happened before February 27 (the day the Sabarmati Express was set on fire at Godhra) or on February 27 or after that was done in a lawful manner.”
Modi tried to underplay the importance of Godhra in the polls.
“From 1995, we have won elections in Godhra. We performed a hat-trick. There was no Godhra in 1995 and, yet, if you care to study the graph of the Jan Sangh and later the BJP in Gujarat, you will see we are on a vijay yatra (victorious journey),” asserted the chief minister.
Modi went on the offensive on questions related to Muslims or security. Asked about restoring confidence in the minorities, he replied with a straight face: “Those who have asked this question should now learn to either keep quiet or introspect on their mistakes.”
He went on to say: “Those who tried to destroy Gujarat’s image for 10 months but failed should now take measures to salvage their credibility. For this purpose I am willing to offer my services to them as a consultant.”
The chief minister was reminded of Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh’s reported statement in a recent press conference in Shimla on how people of Himachal should not allow outsiders to abuse religion in the election campaign. “The CEC said the same thing in Gujarat, but fortunately the people of Gujarat interpreted his statement in the right context. I hope the people of Himachal do the same,” he said.
The BJP was quick to construe Lyngdoh’s statement as a direct reference to Modi because he was expected to campaign in a big way during the Assembly election. “I will do what the leaders ask me to,” he said in reply to a question. “I will articulate in words whatever strategy is planned by the leaders. I will leave no stone unturned to ensure that the party is successful. But strategies are not unveiled in press conferences and how they shape up will depend on the need of the hour.”
Addressing the press before the question-answer session, Modi declared that his development agenda in Gujarat would be a “panchamrit (elixir of five ingredients)” of “gyan shakti (power of knowledge), jal shakti (water), urja shakti (electricity), jan shakti (people) and raksha shakti (security)”.
“The Gujarat elections were the first to take place in the 21st century so my development programme will have the thrust of the new century. My panchamrit yojana will be based on these five pillars of development,” he said.
But while he was expansive on four of the “pillars”, he was cagey on the fifth — security. All he would say was the need to upgrade Gujarat’s security and intelligence networks because it was a border state. “Security details cannot be revealed before the press,” he replied when pressed for details.
Modi was in Delhi to attend the gathering of People of Indian Origin since the Gujarati diaspora is the largest. He said he had constituted a separate Non-Resident Gujarati (NRG) ministry headed by Ashok Bhatt to “integrate the NRGs with the Indian stream”.
“The NRGs are everywhere. The British said the sun never sets on their Empire. I say the sun will never set on the Gujarat empire because Gujaratis are everywhere,” he claimed.