"We are not against Muslims. We are not a communal or caste—based party. We are only against terrorists and not against any religion," Mr. Gadkari said.
Seeking to reach out to Muslims, BJP President Nitin Gadkari today said his party is not against the community but was unfortunately caught in an image warp.
At the same time, he said there was nothing to be apologetic about Hindutva or the core issues of the BJP, including uniform civil code and Ram temple at Ayodhya.
“We are not against Muslims. We are not a communal or caste—based party. We are only against terrorists and not against any religion,” Mr. Gadkari told PTI.
Lamenting that BJP’s problem was “image versus reality”, he said it was “unfortunate”. He targeted the Congress, accusing it of not executing Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru because he was a Muslim.
Replying to a range of questions - from the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate to its strategy on cut-motions in Lok Sabha this week - Mr. Gadkari sought to keep the cards close to his chest, including on queries whether it was ready for immediate mid-term elections.
When asked if the BJP would woo Muslims in its bid to increase its vote-base, Mr. Gadkari said, “100 per cent, we will reach out to Muslims“.
Mr. Gadkari said BJP wants members of the Muslim community to join the party and this process may be slow but should be with conviction.
“We want to remove their hunger, poverty, lack of education,” he said.
On the issue of the Babri Masjid demolition he said, though the incident was “unfortunate”, what was demolished was a disputed structure and not a mosque.
“A mosque is one when prayers are offered regularly...Moreover, a Ram idol was kept there,” he pointed out.
At the same time, the BJP President said for his party, Ayodhya was not a political issue and was a matter of faith and all parties should look at it rising above political considerations.
Seeking to turn the tables on the Congress over the issue, Mr. Gadkari asked whether Vallabhbhai Patel could be called communal for taking initiative for the construction of the Somnath Temple.
Mr. Gadkari maintained that the Ram temple should be built at the birth place of Lord Rama in Ayodhya.
On the contentious issue of Uniform Civil Code, Mr. Gadkari said it should be there in the country. “There should be one law for everybody in this country. In which country of the world is there separate law for Muslims?” he asked, also wondering whether raising such a progressive issue amounts to communalism.
Asked about lessons to be learnt from the second successive win of the UPA, he said, “We have to increase our basic vote bank. We are lagging behind Congress, which has a rich vote-bank since 1947.”
Besides, Gadkari said the BJP was weak in several states like West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and has to raise its basic strength by working among SCs/STs, minorities and unorganised workers.
He also said the BJP was trying to increase its influence among the professionals and intellectuals.
On the mina opposition’s plans for Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Gadkari said the party would go it alone in the state and try to gain a foothold as there was a renewed hope that working with mutual trust and transparency will bear results.
Asked about the party’s strategy to reach out to the youth vis-a-vis Congress, which is positioning Rahul Gandhi to woo them, Mr. Gadkari said BJP has sent a maximum number of 31 young MPs to the Lok Sabha.
“Let him work,” was his cryptic response when asked what he thought of the young leader.
Attacking Congress for playing “dynastic” politics, he said a man like him who once stuck party posters can become president of BJP but in Congress even top party leaders cannot aspire to fill the slot which is “booked” for members of the Gandhi family.
Mr. Gadkari also sought to differentiate between his visits to Dalit households and that of Rahul Gandhi, saying he does not believe in taking the media with him to seek publicity.
“Visiting Dalit households is not a part of our political strategy. It is a natural part of BJP’s functioning,” he remarked.