The BJP has said it was ready to "apologise" to Muslims for any "mistake", the strongest pitch the party has made to reach out to the community ahead of the general election.
"Please note that whenever, wherever if there has been any mistake and shortcoming on our part, I assure you that we will apologise to you by bowing our heads," BJP chief Rajnath Singh said on Tuesday. The remark from Singh came at a party conclave involving Muslim cadres.
Muslims, the largest minority with 15% share of India's population, are often thought to influence elections by forming a crucial voting bloc. Electoral data show that Muslims do not always vote for any one party or candidate, they have been generally cagey about of Hindutva-based politics.
"Try us once. We don't come up to your expectations, don't look at us ever again," he said at an election agenda meeting titled, "Modi for PM--- Mission 272 Plus, Role of Muslims".
Some Muslim leaders greeted Singh's remarks with skepticism. "This is an attempt to nuetralise 5%-10% votes. Why an apology now? Because of the elections," said Zafarul Islam Khan, the chief of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Musharwat, an umbrella organization that spearheaded a campaign after the Babri Masjid demolition.
The BJP has, however, aggressively been wooing Muslims, boasting of Muslim presence in Modi's rallies. A controversy had erupted when allegations had surfaced about BJP distributing skullcaps and burqas in some rallies.
"The BJP has never been apologetic about anything. It realised it can't afford to have a PM with polarized image," said Mumbai-based Sayed Najeeb, the general secretary of the Association of Muslim Professionals.
The BJP has managed to garner Muslim votes in Gujarat as well as in Rajasthan and a few other states in the recent assembly polls.
The Congress, however, attempted to puncture Rajnath's move by pointing out that BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi did not give election ticket to any Muslim in his state.
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"BJP did not give an election ticket to any Muslim in 182 assembly and 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat. How you can say this is real repentance," Congress spokesman Shaktisinh Gohil told reporters.
Gohil, a known detractor of the Gujarat chief minister, said the BJP PM candidate has always contested elections by creating a fear psychosis among Muslims by raising issues like Sohrabuddin encounter and the Sir Creek dispute with Pakistan.
* Two big events that hurt BJP
Babri Masjid demolition: On Dec 6, 1992, Hindu activists destroyed 16th century mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, to reclaim land known as Ram Janmabhoomi. Stalemate over land continues
2002 Gujarat riots: Of over 1,200 killed, nearly 950 were Muslims. Riots erupted following torching of Sabarmati Express near Godhra, in which 59 passengers —mostly kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya — were killed. Carnage happened under Narendra Modi’s watch as chief minister
Watch: We will seek forgiveness: Rajnath on 2002 Gujarat riots
* Muslims’ fear of the known
BJP’s non-negotiable approach on Ram temple at Ayodhya Party’s insistence on uniform civil code Hardcore right-wing elements in saffron party
* Mellowing of Modi
In run-up to Lok Sabha polls, BJP’s prime ministerial nominee has increasingly sought to project a more inclusive image
Feb 2013: News agencies reported Modi told European Union envoys the 2002 riots were unfortunate
Oct 2013: He advocated building of toilets first and temples later. This put him at odds with sections of his Hindu nationalist party
Dec 2013: Wrote in his blog he was "shaken to the core" by the "mindless violence" during the 2002 riots
(With PTI input)