//PM, Sonia worried over Muslim discontent

PM, Sonia worried over Muslim discontent

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

New Delhi – Growing discontent among Indian Muslims with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government over the official responses to the Mumbai train bombings is worrying both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, say ruling party sources.

A group of Muslim leaders have conveyed their unhappiness to both the leaders, saying attempts by a section of central and Maharashtra state government functionaries to isolate the community could have grave ’social and political consequences’. Highly placed sources told IANS that the Muslim MPs complained to Manmohan Singh that there was a concerted attempt by even senior officials to give a religious colour to terrorism in India, where Muslims number about 140 million and are its largest religious minority.

The MPs met Manmohan Singh earlier this month and later conveyed their fears to Sonia Gandhi, who is also chairperson of UPA.

The MPs, according to the sources, specifically told Manmohan Singh that statements purportedly from National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan were ‘disturbing’.

‘A few months back when an Indian was beheaded by the Taliban, the NSA told the media that Indian Muslims had not reacted to the tragedy. He is also said to have remarked that the terrorist groups had been recruiting people from the Haj groups,’ said a Muslim MP who did not want to be named.

However, sources in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said Narayanan had denied making any such remarks. Narayanan reportedly said what he had meant was that there was an attempt by terrorist outfits to recruit some Haj pilgrims.

But political sources confirmed that Gandhi and Manmohan Singh were ‘disturbed’ over the reported remarks of the NSA.

‘The party leadership is concerned about the increasing unhappiness among the Muslims,’ said a senior Congress leader.

‘We cannot afford to hurt the Muslim community,’ the leader said, referring to upcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. ‘The Congress is secular and cannot afford an anti-Muslim image.’

India has more Muslims than any other country except Indonesia and New Delhi’s growing ties with the US have produced anger in the community that blames Washington for the human misery in Iraq and Lebanon. Most Muslims voted for the Congress in the 2004 general elections that catapulted the party to power.

The Muslim leaders pointed out that the Congress-led government in Maharashtra and the state police had ‘communalised’ the July 11 Mumbai bombings that killed nearly 200 people and given a religious colour to the terrorist act.

‘They sought to blame the entire Muslim community as supporters and collaborators of anti-national elements and tried to portray the areas inhabited by Muslims as havens of Islamic terrorists,’ one of the MPs said.

He said the Mumbai Police had arrested several ‘innocent, poor Muslims’ and treated them ‘inhumanly’ in custody during the hunt for those who masterminded the string of bombings in Mumbai trains and railway stations.

The MPs reportedly raised the issue with both Manmohan Singh and Gandhi also at a dinner the prime minister hosted for UPA MPs at his residence last week.

The prime minister has assured the Muslim MPs that innocent people would not be allowed to be harassed at any cost.

‘He said he would talk to (Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao) Deshmukh about the targeting of Muslims,’ the Muslim leader said.