Reprinted here is the English text of the speech delivered in Hindi, by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at a public meeting in Goa in April 12 – (as appeared in Indian Express April 24th 2002.)
I was in Cambodia just recently. It is the Kamboj state of the past, where magnificent temples that kissed the sky were built in the 10th and the 11th centuries. It had Hindu states ruled by Hindu kings. There were others too among the citizens, but there was justice towards all. Sometimes the kings also used to fight among themselves. The wheel of victory and defeat rolled on. But during their centuries’ long history there isn’t a single instance of a Hindu king destroying temples or breaking idols when he attacked another Hindu king. The kings who were victorious used to build a new temple. If Vishnu was being worshipped there earlier, later Shiva began to be worshipped. If Shiva was being worshipped at one time, then other deities began to be worshipped later. Nevertheless, no king destroyed a temple or damaged the deities’ idols at the time of attacking another king.
This is our culture. This is our outlook, which treats all faiths equally. Yet, accusations are being hurled today that secularism is under threat. Who are these people accusing us? What is the meaning of secularism for these people? India was secular when Muslims hadn’t come here and Christians hadn’t set foot on this soil. It is not as if India became secular after they came. They came with their own modes of worship and they too were given a place of honour and respect. They had the freedom to worship God as per their wish and inclination. No one thought of converting them with force, because this is not practiced in our religion; and in our culture, there is no use for it.
Today the 100 crore people of India are engaged in creating their future on the basis of their own culture. Sometimes, minor incidents do take place here and there sometimes they take the form of major incidents. But if you go to the root of these incidents, you will find intolerance, you’ll find them to be a manifestation of growing intolerance.
What happened in Gujarat? If a conspiracy had not been hatched to burn alive the innocent passengers of the Sabarmati Express, then the subsequent tragedy in Gujarat could have been averted. But this did not happen. People were torched alive. Who were those culprits? The government is investigating into this. Intelligence agencies are collecting all the information. But we should not forget how the tragedy of Gujarat started. The subsequent developments were no doubt condemnable, but who lit the fire? How did the fire spread? Ours is a multi-religious country, a multi-lingual country, we have many different modes of worship. We believed in peaceful and harmonious co-existence. We believe in equal respect for all faiths. Let no one challenge India’s secularism. I have read somewhere in newspapers that the Congress Party has decided not to try to topple my Government. Shall I thank them for this? Or shall I say that the “Grapes are sour”? How will the Government fall? Once they did topple it, but they couldn’t form one themselves. Then a fresh mandate from the people was called for, and the people once again gave us an opportunity to serve them.
For us the soil of India from Goa to Guwahati is the same, all the people living on this land are the same. We do not believe in religious extremism. Today the treat to our nation comes from the terrorism.
Wherever I went around the world, the heads of state or of elected governments complained to me that the militant Islam is sowing thorns along their paths. Islam has two facets. One is that which tolerate others, which teaches its adherents to follow the path of truth, which preaches compassion and sensitivity. But these days, militancy in the name of Islam leaves no room for tolerance. It has raised the slogan of Jehad. It is dreaming of recasting the entire world in its mould.
You will be surprised to hear this – indeed, I too was surprised – that some terrorists belonging to Al-Queda were arrested in Singapore. The rulers of Singapore couldn’t even have imagined that Al-Queda would be active in their country, too; that Al-Queda would hatch a conspiracy in Singapore too. Some 15 or 16 persons were arrested, an investigation is underway, which will reveal the truth. The same is happening in Indonesia. The same is happening in Malaysia. Wherever such Muslims live, they tend not to live in co-existence with others, not to mingle with others; and instead of propagating their ideas in a peaceful manner, they want to spread their faith by resorting to terror and threats. The world has become alert to this danger.
As far as we are concerned, we have been fighting against terrorism for the past 20 years. Terrorists have tried to grab Jammu and Kashmir through violence, but we have countered them. Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India, and will forever remain so. No other country’s dream will ever, come true. Now other nations in the world have started to realize what a great mistake they did by neglecting terrorism. Now they are waking up, and are organizing themselves. They are putting together an international consensus against terrorism.
We tell them through our own example that a large number of non-Hindus live in our country, but here has never ever been religious persecution here. We have never discriminated between “our people” and “aliens”. The modes of worship may differ, but God is one. Only the paths to reach Him and realize Him can be different. It is for this reason that India’s prestige is growing, India’s reputation is rising. I have also had an occasion to visit many other countries. Everywhere Muslims live in large numbers. And the rulers in those countries are worried lest those Muslims embrace extremism, We told them that they should educate people on the true tenets of Islam, that they should also teach other subjects in madrasas. Islam too should be taught, but emphasize that people should live together and that it is necessary to accept that faith cannot be propagated on the strength of the world.
Our Government has completed two-and-a-half years. We have tried to change the face of our country. In a country, which once had a scarcity of foodgrains, which used to import foodgrains to feed its people, in that very same country we have created a situation wherein, thanks to our toiling kisans, a day has come when we export foodgrains to other countries and feed the stomach of their citizens.
We have large foreign exchange reserves. We are progressing in science and technology. Our young men and women are excelling in global competition. Even in the midst of an economic recession, India is progressing, India is marching ahead. When taxes are imposed in the budget, it is bound to create some difficulties, but in turn, we are fulfilling many needs of our people. We have taken up such works and projects that were never touched in the past. We want to create world-class national highways of four lanes that link the North to the South and the East to the West, and on which there can be obstruction-free traffic. Work has already begun n this massive National Highway Development Project covering 13,000 kilometres. We will spend 60,000 crore rupees on this project. We want to build a network of good roads all over the country.
We have also prepared programmes and projects for the development of Goa. There is a proposal to link Goa to the Goden Quadrilateral part of the National Highway Development Project. I wish to assure you that we shall do everything possible to implement this proposal. For this, the National Highway No. 17 will be widened to four lanes. We shall see to it that this proposal goes ahead.
When I had come here last time, I had spoken about improving the sewerage system along the coastal belt of Goa. Beach tourism is adversely affected by this. It is very necessary that the sewerage system is improved along the coastal belt if we want that tourists come here. Nature has made Goa very beautiful. It has a sea coast. Goa is an enchanting place. Tourists wish to come here in large numbers. However, we need to create better facilities for them. The State Government is making efforts in this direction. I wish to assure the State Government that wherever Central assistance is needed, we shall provide such assistance in required quantity.
Goa is also paying attention to the development of roads. We are trying to build roads to connect all the unconnected villages. Goa does not have unconnected villages and hilly regions, but it has a large well-spread out area. It is necessary to link it with good roads and to make communication smooth. The problem of water is growing in North Goa. Pollution too is becoming a serious problem. If any project to tackle these problems comes before the Government, we shall provide assistance to them and contribute to their completion. Goa will once again pass through a trial. The Goa Government acted on its own to dissolve itself. This showed that those who were running the Government in Goa had no lust for power. When they realized that the atmosphere had got polluted, that party-hopping had started, and that they were not in a position to serve the people, then our friends dissolved the Legislative Assembly in Goa.
Now a new Assembly will be elected. It will be elected with your votes. It will be elected with your choice. You elect such a new Government that will be stable, that will be free of corruption, and that will open up new avenues for Goa’s progress. The forthcoming election will give you an opportunity to do so. If necessary, we in Delhi shall mobilize resources for your development. At the very least, we shall certainly send you our best wishes.
Goa Speech: ‘Who Started The Fire?’
Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Date: Apr 24, 2002