Shyam Bhatia in London
Union Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi has defended Hindutva as an 'all-inclusive concept' and 'not a dirty word'
Joshi, who stopped over in London on his way to an education conference in Nigeria, was asked at an informal gathering with local journalists whether his association with Hindutva marked him out as a hardliner within the ruling BJP coalition in New Delhi.
"I am an advocate of a Hindutva, which is all-inclusive," Joshi replied. "Hindutva is not a dirty word. Madan Mohan Malaviya [freedom fighter and pre-independence Congress party leader] was an advocate of Hindutva, Mahatma Gandhi was also an advocate of Hindutva."
"To be a good Hindu or a professing Hindu or a professing Muslim is not a to be a hardliner. I wouldn't call Maulana Azad a hardliner. He was a practising Muslim and believed in the tenets of Islam," he said.
Joshi, who believes the BJP will win with a comfortable majority in the Gujarat assembly election scheduled for December 12, said, "I have always been saying that the perception of Hindutva in our country has always been inclusive."
He claimed that the 19th century Muslim leader Sir Syed Ahmed said that the word Hindu represented both Hindus and Muslims. He further claimed, "When many people from India go on Haj [annual pilgrimage to Mecca] they are known as Hindu Muslims."
Joshi is among those top echelon BJP members who have been prepared to take on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi after he was criticised for not doing enough to prevent the communal riots that swept through Gujarat earlier this year following the Godhra massacre.
When Modi subsequently badmouthed Chief Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh by describing him as a 'Christian and Congress agent', Joshi was one of the BJP leaders in New Delhi (the other was Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee) who termed his remarks as 'disgraceful'.
In London, Joshi reminded journalists of the word he had used to criticise his party colleague, adding, "I openly reprimanded Mr Modi for his comments about Mr Lyngodh and that too sitting in the RSS headquarters."
As human resources minister Joshi said he is determined to use the funds at his disposal to improve the quality of life for all communities.
One of his ministry's pet projects is to fund more teachers of science and mathematics for madrasas and also facilitate better access for them to computer technology.
"We have identified all those districts and blocks known as Muslim majority areas and we have this special educational plan to bring the madrasas into the mainstream by supplying them with science and mathematics teachers," Joshi said. "We are also setting up computer centres in those areas. More than 150 computer centres have been set up during the last two years. About 10,000 students have been trained in them and many of them are now employed in some organisation or self employed."
"I have no objection to any community teaching its own religious texts but they must also participate in modern, mainstream education or they will remain non productive," he added.
At a UNESCO sponsored conference on education to be held in the Nigerian capital of Abuja later this week, Joshi will tell his audience of how under a BJP government India has achieved a literacy rate of 66 per cent with an expectation of doing substantially better in the next eight years.
"Because of special efforts in the last four years total literacy in India has reached 66 per cent plus and for the first time after independence the absolute number of illiterates has come down by 30 million", Joshi said.
"We have fixed 2010 for achieving a 75 per cent literacy rate, for providing schooling to all students between the ages of six and 16 and to finish their primary education," he said.
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