"Hello Modi uncle, salam aleikum". The Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, was thus greeted by a group of Muslim men who had assembled at Varanasi’s Gyanvapi Mosque to offer congregational Friday prayers.
Modi smiled, folded his hands, looked back and replied, “Thank You.”
The exchange occurred when the Gujarat chief minister was returning after offering puja at the Kashi Vishwanath temple. The mosque shares boundary with the temple complex.
Saffron outfits claim Moghul emperor Aurangzeb had ordered the demolition of a section of the Vishwanath temple and constructed Gyanvapi mosque. They have pledged to ‘liberate’ it like Babri mosque.
It is probably for the first time in the history of Kashi Vishwanath temple that a rightwing Hindu leader was greeted by Muslims from the Gyanvapi mosque in such a manner.
Moreover, the greeting was for a leader who still finds it difficult to shake off allegations that he did not act decisively to prevent the 2002 riots in Gujarat. According to state government records, of more than 1,200 people killed in the riots, nearly 950 were Muslims.
Since Friday morning, Hindus were not allowed into the temple, but no such restrictions were in place for Muslims who offer prayer at the mosque.
Even after Modi’s arrival at the temple, Muslims kept on entering the mosque to offer namaz.
Rizwan Siddiqui, who offered Friday prayer at the mosque today, said, “We were aware of Narendra Modi’s visit to the temple and we lined up at the boundary of the mosque and greeted him.”
Narendra Modi along with BJP president Rajnath Singh and party state president Lakshmi Kant Vajpayee arrived at the temple around 12.22pm from Sankat Mochan temple.
The chief priest of the Kashi Vishwanath temple, Srikant Mishra, along with 21 other priests performed a special puja for Modi.
After completing the puja, Mishra smeared Modi’s forehead with a traditional tika.
“I told him this is your Raj Tilak; after becoming the PM, come to Kashi Vishwanath temple again,” Mishra said.
The chief priest also offered Modi a memento and a shawl.
Mishra said he felt happy with the “surprising and welcome” gesture of Muslims.