Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the main mosque in Abu Dhabi on Sunday in a conciliatory gesture to the Muslim minority back home wary of his past and his Hindu nationalist party.
Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been dogged by allegations he did not stop religious riots in Gujarat over a decade ago, when at least 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed in communal riots.
He has denied the allegations and a Supreme Court inquiry found no evidence to suggest he was complicit in the violence.
Modi toured the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, accompanied by UAE Culture Minister Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak Al-Nahayan. He made no statements to journalists.
Analysts said Modi, who has vowed to protect all religious groups after a series of attacks on Christians, was trying to show the same concern for Muslims.
“Modi’s visit to the Grand Mosque is a clear signal that he wishes to bury his own communalist baggage and build on India’s pluralistic reputation and highlight Islam’s role in Indian history,” Kadira Pethiyagoda, visiting fellow in Asia-Middle East Relations Brookings Doha Center, told Reuters.
Modi’s two-day visit to Abu Dhabi is the first by an Indian prime minister since Indira Gandhi’s trip in 1981.
The Grand Mosque, Modi’s first stop in this visit, is the largest in the UAE and has the largest hand-woven carpet in the world, where thousands can pray at the same time.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said Modi’s visit comes at a time when relations between the two countries were strong.
“The prime minister’s visit is of strategic significance in our bilateral relations and follows on the heels of growing diplomatic, economic, energy and defense cooperation between our two countries,” UAE state news agency WAM quoted him as saying.
There were opportunities for bilateral security cooperation against extremists, he said. Modi and Sheikh Mohammed discussed “cooperation between both countries and means of strengthening and developing it to achieve mutual strategic interests,” official WAM news agency reported.
Sheikh Mohammed hailed India’s “distinguished and diverse relations” with his country “that serve economic, development, commercial, as well as cultural and political sectors,” WAM said. Modi and his host agreed on the need to “build stronger ties,” it said.
They also “condemned extremism, violence and terrorism in all its forms” and urged the international community to step up efforts “to achieve peace and security” across the region, WAM added.
Indians, who form the UAE’s largest expatriate community, account for about 30 percent of the country’s population of eight million, with many of them laborers who were behind the construction boom.
The UAE is taking part in the US-led coalition against the radical Islamic State group that has seized parts of Syria and Iraq.