In his speech at the World Sufi Forum, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wasn't addressing the domestic audience but also a global one.
"It is this spirit of Sufism, the love for their country and the pride in their nation that define the Muslims in India. They reflect the timeless culture of peace, diversity and equality of faith of our land;
They are steeped in the democratic tradition of India, confident of their place in the country and invested in the future of their nation; And, above all, they are shaped by the values of the Islamic heritage of India. It upholds the highest ideals of Islam and has always rejected the forces of terrorism and extremism," Prime Minister Modi told a thousand strong gathering at Vigyan Bhawan on Thursday, in one of his most important outreach efforts towards the Muslim community.
The World Sufi Forum is being organised by the All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board, an umbrella group of Sufis in the country. "All our people, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, the micro-minority of Parsis, believers, non-believers, are an integral part of India," Modi said.
Adherents of Sufi Islam, and Shias, together constitute 80% of the country's Muslim population. Assam, which goes to polls early next month has a 35% population of Muslims, most of whom follow the Sufi tradition. Similarly, Uttar Pradesh, where the elections will be held early next year, too has a big population.
PM Modi spoke right after Hazrat Ashraf Kichchochwi, the founder of the AIUMB, who in his forceful address had asked the government to take steps to restore the Ganga-Jamuni tradition of the country and take action against the forces of terrorism and communalism. He was, however, equally forceful in speaking out against forces which want to break the country and said that such forces should be sent to their rightful place.
The ruling BJP led government at the Centre, has been criticised for pushing a majoritarian agenda, since it came to power in 2014. Prime Minister Modi, too, has been facing a lot of flak for not been able to rein in the members of the RSS and the BJP who have been openly targeting anyone who has a different worldview. The raging debate on nationalism, especially after the JNU controversy, where the government went after students and academics, has only deepened the mistrust for the government.
Meanwhile, in a long address, punctuated by a bunch shouting Bharat Mata ki Jai and others screaming Nara-e- Takbir, and Nara-e-Haideri, slogans praising Allah and Hazrat Ali respectively, Prime Minister spoke in a manner as if he was trying to reach out to the global Muslim community. He addressed the largely Hindi speaking audience in English. "This is an extraordinary event of great importance to the world, at a critical time for humanity. At a time when the dark shadow of violence is becoming longer, you are the noor, or the light of hope," he said to a gathering which had envoys of West Asian countries, including, Iran, and representatives of Sufi orders in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and others in attendance. Minorities Affairs Minister Najma Heptullah, MK Chishty, the President of the Gujarat Haj Committee and National Security Advisor AK Doval were also present to take part in the inaugural day event of the World Sufi Forum, showing how the government of India is keen to patronise the Sufi version of Islam as a tool of soft power.
"When young laughter is silenced by guns on the streets, you are the voice that heals," PM Modi continued as he invoked great Sufi saints including Khwaja Moiuddin Chishi, Nizamuddin Auliya and Bakhtiyar Kaki and spoke about the refugees and crisis in West Asia.
He also had a veiled message for Pakistan when he said that the tradition of Sufism which evolved in India belongs to the whole of South Asia. "When the spiritual love of Sufism, not the violent force of terrorism, flows across the border, this region will be the paradise on earth that Amir Khusrau spoke about," he said.
"Indeed, when terrorism and extremism have become the most destructive force of our times, the message of Sufism has global relevance," PM Modi explained.
Prime Minister, reiterated the need for de-linking terrorism and religion. "The fight against terrorism is not a confrontation against any religion. It cannot be."
The event and PM Modi's presence had been criticised by Muslim leaders from other organisations. Arshad Madni, the head of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, had earlier said that he would not have invited the Prime Minister.
The criticism was countered by several speakers on the inaugural day. Maulana Syed Tanweer Hashmi, taking a jibe, said that "It is not a conference of Maulvis. It is a conference of Sufis. Let Maulvis do what they want to. We will continue with our message."
Hazrat Ashraf, the founder and President of AIUMB, too was very critical and said that "There are just a handful of people who are against peace. We have to ensure that they do not get any space in the society," he said in a veiled reference to the Deobandis.
PM Modi, without specific reference to any incident in the country, invoked the role of Muslim leaders including Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madni in the freedom struggle and said "The tallest of our leaders, such as Maulana Azad, and important spiritual leaders, such as Maulana Hussain Madani, and millions and millions of ordinary citizens, rejected the idea of division on the basis of religion."