Every religion, individual should be safe in India: Vajpayee

Every religion and every individual should be safe in India if the country is to make meaningful progress, and it is such an India his government wants to create, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said Wednesday.

"How can the country progress if the Muslims are left behind? The Muslims should also think along those lines," the prime minister said addressing a group of Muslim leaders from Uttar Pradesh who have formed an 'Atal Bihari Vajpayee Himayat (support) Committee.'

The leaders, numbering a dozen, called on the prime minister at his official 7 Race Course Road residence here and tied a pink turban on his head to symbolize their support.

The prime minister handed over to them two large silk 'chaddar' (white sheets) to be placed at two Sufi shrines - the Mehrauli Dargah here and the Dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer, Rajasthan.

"I am happy you have decided to support me. I need your support, not only because the elections have started but also because I have always wanted to see Hindus and Muslims living together in harmony as brothers," Vajpayee said.

The prime minister is seeking re-election to parliament from Lucknow constituency in Uttar Pradesh that has a sizeable Muslim population.

"I also want to send the message to our neighbouring country with which we are trying to improve our relations that Hindus and Muslims live as brothers in our country," Vajpayee said in a reference to his peace initiative with Pakistan.

He said it was important to create awareness in society that only if all communities lived in harmony the country can achieve progress and march forward.

Khwaja Iftikhar Ahmed, an administrator at Aligarh Muslim University and convenor of the committee, said the panel was formed in appreciation of the work Vajpayee had done for Muslims during the last six years.

"Many people have asked us why you have formed the committee just before the elections, but we want to make it clear that this is not an election committee," he asserted and said Vajpayee was the greatest leader the country had produced after Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

He said the committee would take out a 'yatra', or march, to spread the prime minister's messages to various parts of Uttar Pradesh.

India's 140 million Muslim community is the second largest population group after the Hindus and is a decisive factor in determining the electoral outcome in many constituencies.