'... The girl's parents would probably react in the same manner as the parents of the Hindu girl who marries a Muslim boy. But we should not politicise this issue. These are social issues and need to be tackled accordingly.'
'Muslim youth want to forget the past and get on with life.'
'The prime minister wants to see Muslim youth with the Quran in one hand and a computer in the other.'
In an exclusive interview, Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla, below, tells Rediff.com contributor Anita Katyal that she is convinced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not discriminate against Muslims.
The 2002 Gujarat riots have left their scars. There is a trust deficit between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Muslim community which is particularly apprehensive about Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The most important message sent out to allay apprehensions of the minorities, especially the Muslims, was to step up the budget allocations for the ministry of minorities.
There were fears among a section of Muslims that the BJP government would wind up this ministry. This did not happen. On the contrary, the finance minister gave Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion) more for the ministry's programmes.
When I met Prime Minister Modi recently, he told me that he believes that Muslims have not been given their due as citizens of this country. He wanted me to work towards ensuring that the Muslim community is not deprived of basics like access to education, health, housing and education that is their due, he said.
Has your government made any effort to reach out to the Muslim community to reassure its members that their fears are misplaced?
As far as our outreach programme for the minorities is concerned, you have to read the BJP election manifesto to get an idea of what this government aims to do for the well-being of all minorities, especially Muslims.
Besides meeting their basic needs, the manifesto talks about the preservation of the distinct identity of all the six minorities in the country. It also speaks about creating a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere for their co-existence and the constitution of a permanent mechanism for an inter-faith dialogue.
This suggests that the BJP is concerned about the minorities. In his election speeches, the prime minister would often point out that a body suffers if one part is weak. Similarly, our society cannot develop and grow if one section remains weak and backward. That's why the prime minister always talks of inclusive development... Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas.
You can get an idea of the prime minister's commitment when he readily agreed to my suggestion that the new government launch a special programme for the preservation of the traditional arts and crafts of minority communities.
This scheme found special mention in the finance minister's Budget speech. Last week, we received a list of all the schemes enumerated in the Budget from the Prime Minister's Office for speedy implementation.
Don't forget, the government has allocated Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) for the modernisation of madrasas. The prime minister has often said that he wants to see Muslim youth with a Quran in one hand and a computer in the other.
These are all positive signals being given by the BJP government. Our government focuses more on action and less on talking.
More than education and jobs, Muslims fear for their security.
The focus of our government is on development which can only take place when there is peace -- the two go hand in hand. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said so on umpteen occasions. Muslims should not fear for their security or their livelihood as the BJP government is committed to provide them both.
The permanent mechanism envisaged by this government for an inter-faith dialogue will go a long way in fostering better understanding between different communities. It will provide a forum for clearing misunderstandings between them.
Most cases of misunderstanding begin at the local level -- which is why our government wants this mechanism to be set up at the district and village level.
What do you think of the Sachar Committee report, which has painted a bleak picture of the condition of Muslims in India?
I agree with the contents of the Sachar committee report. There is no doubt that the condition of the Muslims has not improved over the years; they continue to be deprived, they do not have access to education and jobs, the bulk of them live in abject misery even 67 years after Independence.
The report only goes to show that successive governments over the years did not do much to improve the condition of Muslims in the country. They talked a lot, made tall claims, but failed to deliver. The situation would not have been so bad if previous governments had been serious about lifting them out of poverty.
As it happens, a whole generation has been relegated to backwardness.
People do not understand that Muslim youth are keen on joining the mainstream -- they want to move on.
Is the Modi government committed to the implementation of the Sachar committee report's recommendations?
If you take a look at the BJP manifesto, you will realise that the issues concerning minorities have been drawn up in the light of the recommendations of the Sachar committee report.
It shows the BJP is committed to the implementation of the report. It also fits in with the prime minister's 15-point programme.
Recently, a BJP meeting in Uttar Pradesh dwelt at length on the issue of Hindu girls being forcibly married to Muslims and converted to Islam. Why should a political party be discussing these issues?
In a society like ours where you have people of different religions, inter-faith marriages do take place. This is often opposed by the elders and this happens not only in the case of Hindus and Muslims, but also in the case of inter-caste marriages.
This anger is often manifested in honour killings. This is particularly so in villages and small towns. These are issues plaguing our society; these problems do arise in our society and need to be settled amicably.
We should not forget there are conservative elements in all communities. If a Muslim girl marries a Hindu boy, the girl's parents would probably react in the same manner as the parents of the Hindu girl who marries a Muslim boy.
But we should not politicise this issue. These are social issues and need to be tackled accordingly.
But the BJP is politicising this issue by raising it at a party meeting...
This issue probably came up at the BJP meeting as some parents were disturbed by the developments. It would be different if the matter was taken by the party president, but it was not the case here.
Somehow it came up for discussion maybe because the parents of the girls were upset. We should tackle these issues with great sensitivity.
As the prime minister stated in his Independence Day speech, parents should take responsibility for the actions of their sons as well.
It is being said that the BJP is deliberately keeping these issues alive as it wants to polarise society in Uttar Pradesh for political gain.
This is disinformation being spread by our party's opponents.
What did they do when they were in power? They were polarising society on different issues.
The Opposition parties, who were marginalised and isolated in the last Lok Sabha elections, are making these allegations to divert attention from the government's development agenda.
The prime minister's vision is to take the country to a new level, but the Opposition parties are vitiating the atmosphere. They are raising extraneous issues for political gain.
There is a growing perception that the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) is dictating terms to your government. It wants the BJP to implement its agenda now that the party enjoys a majority at the Centre.
I am not aware of this. After all, the RSS is the parent organisation of the BJP. Many senior party leaders have an RSS background.
But personally, I have not been told to follow the RSS agenda or dictated to by anybody in the Sangh. I am in touch with the RSS's Muslim Rashtriya Manch head Indresh Kumar.
The Muslim youth and moderate elements in the community want to forget the past and get on with life.
The last general election showed that Muslims also voted for the BJP, maybe not in large numbers, but many of them did repose faith in Modi's leadership.
A recent survey showed that 60 per cent Muslims feel safe under Modi's government.
I agree that Muslims have not been close to the BJP, but now that the party is in power, they have developed confidence in it.
Top Image: Muslim youth exchange greetings after Friday prayers at the Jama Masjid in New Delhi. Photograph: Reuters. Image published only for representational purposes.