New Delhi, April 22: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took the lead to give a fillip to the BJP’s effort to win over Muslims by asserting that Gujarat must never happen again.
“What happened in Gujarat should not have happened. Let us resolve not to allow another Gujarat to happen anywhere else. Hindus and Muslims should not see each other with mistrust,” agencies quoted Vajpayee as saying in a rally at Kishanganj in Bihar to canvass support for BJP candidate Syed Shahnawaz Hussain.
Vajpayee’s appeal came a day after BJP leaders and strategists decided to focus on Uttar Pradesh and woo Muslims. Party sources said the endeavour would be to at least neutralise the minority vote by ensuring that it does not polarise in favour of any one party.
Vajpayee’s stress on Gujarat indicated the BJP’s perception that the riots in the state in 2002 had become as much of a watershed in the Muslim community’s attitude to the BJP as the Babri demolition. In Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has put up posters with the famous picture of a Muslim youth pleading for mercy with folded hands as a reminder of Gujarat.
Hussain is the BJP’s poster boy in countering allegations of being anti-minority and, the sources said, that was a reason why Vajpayee stopped in Kishanganj where Hussain is pitted against the RJD’s Taslimuddin.
“If we can walk the path of peace with our estranged neighbour, why cannot we settle our problems peacefully within our country' Removing mistrust between the two communities is most important,” Vajpayee said, referring to his peace overtures to Pakistan.
He added that he tenaciously pursued a policy of peace despite the highs and lows in bilateral relations.
“If it were not so, I would not have gone to Lahore by bus. We (India and Pakistan) could have succeeded, but some generals of the former Prime Minister (Nawaz Sharif) did not support him and Kargil happened. We were betrayed and responded suitably to the challenge. But we were not disheartened and invited Pervez Musharraf to Agra. The talks in Agra broke down but we have still not lost hope.”
Projecting himself as the harbinger of peace, Vajpayee said during his last visit to Islamabad a few months ago, he tried to impress on Musharraf the futility of conflict and the need to normalise relations.
“I told him we have fought three wars but have reached nowhere. It is only the manufacturers and sellers of weapons in developed countries who have benefited; who gain when innocent women and children get killed, certainly not India and Pakistan. Let us trade with each other, let us help each other,” he said.
Vajpayee made it a point to tell the gathering how his government had decided to recruit two crore Urdu teachers to promote the language and proposed to earmark Rs 74 crore for madarsa students.
A BJP delegation has objected to an advertisement put out by the Samajwadi Party, the BJP’s main rival in Uttar Pradesh, in Urdu papers to soften up Muslims and asked the Election Commission to take action.
In a clear reference to the Babri Masjid demolition, the ad posited the Samajwadi as “protector” of the mosque and the BJP as its destroyer.