Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has dismissed Al Qaeda’s plan to set up a South Asia branch, saying it was “delusional” to think his country’s Muslim minority would follow orders to wage jihad in the region.
“They are doing injustice toward the Muslims of our country,” he said in an interview with CNN broadcast on Friday. “If anyone thinks Indian Muslims will dance to their tune, they are delusional. Indian Muslims will live for India, they will die for India—they will not want anything bad for India.”
It was Modi’s first reaction to Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s announcement earlier this month, in which the militant leader said that the group would set up a new operation to take the fight to India, which has a large but traditionally moderate Muslim population, as well as Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Millions of Muslims fled India for what is now Pakistan in 1947 when the British Empire partitioned the two countries at independence, and tensions persist between those who remain and the Hindu majority. Indian Muslims have also been the victims of violence led by Hindu extremists. Hundreds died during the 2002 Gujarat riots, at a time when Modi was the state’s chief minister.
But there have been relatively few reports of young Indian men leaving to fight Islamist causes abroad, which experts say is because local grievances have kept them at home.
Modi said the threat from Islamist extremist groups was “a crisis against humanity, not a crisis against one country or one race.”
“We have to frame this as a fight between humanity and inhumanity, nothing else,” he added.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was accused during the election campaign of trying to polarize votes along religious lines. Party president Amit Shah faces charges of inflaming tensions in a speech during the campaign.
But in a widely praised Independence Day speech in August, Modi said communal violence was “stalling the growth of the nation” and had gone on for “too long.”