Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said al-Qaida will fail to attract recruits among his country’s Muslims.
Earlier this month, al-Qaida said it had created a new branch to bring Islamic rule to the entire Indian subcontinent.
Modi’s remarks, his first in an interview to international media since his election in May, are his most forthcoming on the Islamist group and India’s Muslims, many of whom doubted his commitment to religious minorities in Hindu-dominant, but officially secular, India.
In disputed Kashmir, a decades-old insurgency has Muslims battling against New Delhi’s rule. In Gujarat state, many Muslims were killed in riots in 2002 during Modi’s tenure as chief minister.
In an excerpt from the interview, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria asked Modi whether al-Qaida’s appeal to Muslims in such places would succeed. Through an interpreter, Modi dismissed the terrorist group’s recruitment drive and praised India’s Muslims as patriots.
“My understanding is that they are doing injustice toward the Muslims of our country. If anyone thinks Indian Muslims will dance to their tune, they’re delusional,” he said. “Indian Muslims will live for India. They will die for India. They will not want anything bad for India.”
Muslims constitute about 13 percent of India’s population of 1.2 billion. A handful have joined jihadist groups. Modi said the threat from Islamist militancy is not about “one country,” or “one race.” He said it is a “fight between humanity and inhumanity.”
India has a long history of sectarian strife, and some Muslim leaders welcomed what Modi had to say.
“Prime Minister Modi’s remarks are a reply to those trying to create a rift” between religious groups, said Delhi cleric Mufti Mukarram.
Modi’s remarks come ahead of his meeting with President Obama later this month in Washington. Islamist groups, as well as the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, are likely be part of the security agenda when the two leaders sit down at the White House.
Modi had been denied entry into the U.S. during his time as Gujarat’s chief minister over allegations, never proven, of religious persecution.
But since Modi’s election, the Obama administration has beaten a path to his door in a bid to smooth relations and to reassure Modi, who now leads Asia’s third-largest economy, that it is a new day for Washington.
Modi said relations between the U.S. and India, a Cold War ally of the Soviet Union, will continue to improve.
You can follow NPR’s Julie McCarthy on Twitter @JulieMcCarthyJM.