Launching a veiled attack on Narendra Modi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday urged people to be "cautious" of those who work against India's secular thought by attempting to "redefine secularism".
Singh also sought to woo minorities by spotlighting their increased share in jobs, loans and welfare schemes during the UPA regime besides highlighting various programmes his government has taken to address social and economic backwardness of Muslims.
Addressing a conference of state minority commissions, he said India's strength lies in unity and warned against divisive forces.
"For India as a country, secularism has been a way of life practiced over centuries. We should be cautious of people who work against India's secular thought by attempting to redefine secularism...
"We should be vigilant against forces that seek to exploit our diversity in religion, language and culture to divide out society," he said.
Singh and BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Modi have been engaged in a war of words of late with both leaders taking jibes at each other at various forums.
The Prime Minister and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had yesterday asked the people to battle religious fanaticism and asserted that true religion cannot be the basis of hatred and division, in comments which were seen as a veiled attack on BJP and Modi.
The UPA, Singh said, has tried its best to ensure social and economic justice to minority communities, and added that efforts over the last nine years have shown visible results.
He referred to the Sachar Committee report, which had gone into the details of socio-economic and educational backwardness of Muslims, and said his government had accepted 72 of its 76 recommendations.
Most of the concerns raised by the committee have been addressed by the PM's New 15 Point Programme, he said, pointing out that the matter for reservation for Muslims in jobs is sub-judice.
"We have been able to persuade the private sector to some extent to take affirmative action in favour of minorities," he said.
Singh also spoke about the Muzaffarnagar riots, saying there have been instances when the relationship between majority and minority communities has been put to "severe test, especially of late".
These aberrations, he said, tarnish the image of society and country.
"They cause pain and suffering to the affected people.
They also disrupt the ability of large sections of our society to contribute to the rapid economic progress of our country," he said.
Muslims, he said, have not had an equal share of the fruits of development while other religious minorities have done well. It is incumbent on any government to redress such balances and inequalities, he said, stressing that UPA had accepted most recommendations made by Sachar Committee.
The lot of minorities, he noticed, has improved. Priority sector lending to minorities by banks has increased from about Rs 59,000 cr in 2007-08 to about Rs 1,85,000 cr in 2012-13, he said.
Their recruitment in Central government and Central Public Sector Enterprises has gone up from 6.9 per cent in 2006-07 to 7.4 percent in 2012-13, he said.