New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have come a long way vis-a-vis his troubled relations with the Muslim community -- which suffered much during the 2002 Gujarat riots when he was Chief Minister -- telling a BJP meet in Kerala's Kozhikode on Sunday that Muslims should not be "rebuked and hated".
While many opposition leaders see the Prime Minister's statement as an attempt to play up a centrist image, others remained sceptical.
From an outright rejection to wear a Muslim skull cap at his Sadbhavna Fast in 2012, Modi, in a major shift of stance, sought to move closer towards the community.
"Do not rebuke Muslims... They need not be rewarded. Empower them. They are not items of vote market nor are they substance of hate. Treat them as your own," Modi told a BJP national council meeting at Kozhikode quoting Jan Sangh ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya.
Biju Janata Dal leader B. Mahtab welcomed the statement, but said he also saw it "as an attempt by Modi to play a centrist role".
"Moreover, significantly, it is an attempt to distance himself from the core agenda of the Sangh parivar. He is trying to give an effect to playing the centrist role henceforth. I welcome this because this is necessary for a country like India," Mahtab told IANS.
A sitting BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh said on the condition of anonymity that "Modi's speech on Muslims seemed to have been well thought of and well crafted".
"There is a new message in it definitely," he said while declining to elaborate.
Some leaders, however, remained sceptical.
Janata Dal-United leader K.C. Tyagi said that "if he is trying to make an image makeover, why is there 'Ghar Wapsi' and so much of hate campaign on cow slaughter".
"According to me, he is a 100 per cent pukka Sanghi and will never come out of the core agenda of that Parivar," Tyagi told IANS.
Trinamool Congress leader Sultan Ahmed also dismissed the statement and said Modi was simply playing politics.
"We do not trust him. He is making statements left and right. Sometimes he talks about poverty in Pakistan, sometime he says Muslims should not be rebuked or hated," Ahmed said.
Others saw Modi's statement as aimed at the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
"By making such a statement, Modi is eyeing elections in Uttar Pradesh, but he will not gain anything," said Samajwadi Party leader Dharmendra Yadav.
According to Tyagi and Mahtab, the Prime Minister, however, remained "political in his statement" as he was addressing BJP leaders and took a dig at the opposition parties -- whom the BJP leaders from time to time have charged with playing appeasement politics towards Muslims.
Modi's role in the 2002 post-Godhra mayhem had come in for serious questioning and he was even considered a pariah at various fora -- including by the US, which declined him a visa in 2005.
Lambasting the "vikrut paribhasha (distorted definition)" of secularism as being propagated by political detractors and a section of intellectuals in the country, the Prime Minister recalled that long back, Upadhyay, founding father of the Jan Sangh -- the predecessor of the ruling BJP -- had said Muslims should not be treated as "substance of vote market".
"We have always tried to uphold his principles," he said, adding that if the BJP had compromised with the ideology, it could have attained power long back.
"But, we chose to struggle by remaining in opposition for the last five decades," he said.