Sheela Bhatt in Panaji

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had an unpleasant surprise for Muslims on Friday: he came down on the community like a ton of bricks. 

Addressing a public rally in the Goan capital, Vajpayee said Islam has two faces: one that teaches tolerance and respects human sentiments; another that fans militancy where there is no place for tolerance.

Completely changing his tone from the anguished one he had adopted in Gujarat last fortnight, Vajpayee, in the presence of members of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s national executive, lashed out at Muslims. “In Indonesia, Malaysia, wherever Muslims are living they don’t want to live in harmony,” he claimed. “They don’t mix with the society [ghul milkar nahin rehte]. They are not interested in living in peace.”

He said that along with Islam madrassas (Islamic religious schools) should teach science subjects. They should also teach children to live in harmony. “Talwar ke bal par mat ka prachar nahin karna chahiye (Islamists should not preach their opinions by force),” he said.

On the Gujarat riots, he took the same line as the hardliners within the Sangh Parivar, blaming it all on the massacre at Godhra. “he thundered. “Aag faily kaise? (Who lit the fire? How did it spread?)”

But he conceded that what had happened after Godhra was also condemnable. “If you go deeper into the Gujarat tragedy,” he said, “you will find that the people of India believe in a multi-religious culture and want to live in harmony. No one should challenge our beliefs in secularism.” 

He said he was surprised to know during his visit to Singapore about the arrests of some 15 Al Qaeda members. He said India was suffering at the hand of these terrorists.

Union Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani, though present at the public meeting, did not speak. BJP president K Jana Krishnamurthi stoutly defended the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat and warned the Congress that it should respect “democratic norms”. Slamming the Congress campaign for Modi’s ouster, he warned, “We too are capable of playing this sport.”

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