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Jun 30, 2013 at 08:59pm IST

Narendra Modi engages with Gujarati Muslims, is shown a presentation on 2002 Godhra riots

Gandhinagar: The 2002 riots in Gujarat continue to pose a challenge to state Chief Minister Narendra Modi. At a conclave in Gandhinagar on Saturday, the BJP leader was shown a presentation on the riots and was asked tough questions, including on post-Godhra rehabilitation programme.

"I spelt out the perception that the community has for the BJP and Modi, the complaints that are there and the heavy hearted feeling for Modi in the community," Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood, a staunch Modi critic.

Mahmood presented a slide show, touching various aspects of problems being faced by Muslims and the 2002 riots, in front of Modi and said he was happy that his views were taken in stride. Mahmood made the presentation at Young Indian Leaders Conclave where Modi remained closeted for a day with 150 young participants at the event organised by Citizen of Accountable Governance.

Out of the 150 participants, around 30 were from the minority community. After the presentation, Modi told Mahmood, "it is very good you said all that and I'll consider it".

In his presentation, Mahmood highlighted the plight of the victims displaced by the 2002 riots, who are now residing in Dhorajinagar and Citizen Nagar on the outskirts of the city. He said 200 families, rehabilitated with the help of local Muslim philanthropists, are residing at the foothill of a one-kilometre long and fifty feet high heap of trash dumped there from all over the city.

Mahmood, who was the Officer on Special Duty (OSD) on Sachar Committee, told Modi that it would be appreciated if the latter pays a visit to Citizen Nagar and Dhorajinagar localities. Besides raising issues like BJP's view on Sachar Committee, anti-Muslim articles on BJP's official website and creating a special cadre for Waqf board, Mahmood said the central scholarship for minorities was not implemented in Gujarat even though it was adopted by BJP governments in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

In his reply to a question on reaction of Modi, who was recently elevated as the head of BJP election campaign committee, Mahmood said "I think the reaction was better than expected". "It is very good you said all that and I will consider it. We have come to know the points raised by you. I and my companions in the party will consider it," Mahmood quoted Modi as saying.

Asked whether this was a new beginning, he said "I'm pretty sure. Because, in my knowledge, there has never been an occasion where BJP and its stalwarts have been challenged by any representative of the Muslim community at the national level".

Meanwhile, Zafar Sareshwala, a critic-turned-admirer of Modi, said this was for the first time since he took over the reins of Gujarat that Modi listened. "The issue is, for us, that he had to talk. But was there somebody to listen to us? The biggest thing was in pin drop silence, Modi listened to him (Syed Zafar Mahmood)," Sareshwala said.

"When Modi came to speak, he said Zafar sahab, I acknowledge what you said. There was no opposition (from Modi). I think the way it was said (by Modi) and the resentment, it was not as if Modi was brought in. These are our genuine concerns," he said. "I have been in this field. I have fought with governments but I don't remember somebody would have brought out so plainly like Mahmood and to the man (Modi) himself," Sareshwala said.

He said there were young Muslims from different parts of India to participate in the conclave. "You know, for me, I've been a votary right from the beginning that there should be a dialogue. And, I'm also against separate entity of Muslims," he said. "This is a youth conclave...Then, the Muslims are also as much youth of the country as anybody else..." he said.

"If you talk, there is an upsurge in the middle class, or upsurge in the youth, then Muslims are a different animal. No! And, that we saw it today," Sareshwala stated. "I mean there were youngsters from Kashmir. In fact, the Kashmiri boys, when they spoke, Modi was very attentive," he said.

"In fact, he (Modi) made a comment when Kashmiri boys were talking about CBI, "CBI ke mamle me hum dono pareshan hain. Fikar mat karo," (We both are troubled by CBI. Don't worry.)," Sareshwala quoted Modi as saying. "I mean they put forward their legitimate concerns. I'm astonished with the political awareness of the Kashmiris," he added.

"There were young Islamic scholars from Hyderabad, a young scholar from Deoband, a burqa-clad girl from Ahmedabad, a principal of a Muslim Girls School in Ahmedabad and two guys from Lakshwadeep. The best part was that out of 150 participants, there were 30 Muslims and everybody got a chance to speak," Sareshwala said. Former President APJ Abdul Kalam spoke at the beginning of the conclave, giving out a guideline on how India can turn into an economic superpower by 2020.

Other speakers at the conclave included HDFC Chairman Deepak Parekh, IIM-A professor Brij Kothari, JP Morgan's Siddarth Punshi and Global Pegoda's Vallabh Bhanusahali.

(With Additional Inputs From PTI)

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