BJP president Amit Shah pulled up four senior party leaders on Sunday for their controversial remarks regarding a mob lynching over beef consumption rumours, cautioning them against making comments that derailed what he called the government’s development agenda.
Sources said Shah told the leaders — Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, Unnao MP Sakshi Maharaj, Uttar Pradesh state legislator Sangeet Som and Union minister Sanjeev Balyan — their comments were shifting the focus from a law-and-order situation to be handled by the Uttar Pradesh government to the Centre and BJP.
“The party president has warned them against making such statements. Such controversies in a way derail the development agenda of the party as well as the Modi government,” a BJP leader said after the meeting at the party headquarters in Delhi.
Shah asked the leaders to avoid further controversy as Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not approve of their statements in the case of 55-year-old Mohammad Ikhlaq’s murder in Greater Noida’s Bisada village by his neighbours, who suspected he butchered a calf and consumed beef.
Sources said BJP leaders are also displeased with the controversy leaving an imprint on neighbouring Bihar, where the party is locked in a fierce poll battle with a grand alliance of Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United) and Congress.
With leaders such as Nitish Kumar attacking the BJP over the issue to woo the Muslim and lower caste vote, the BJP wants to send a clear message that it doesn’t endorse such violence. “This was serving no purpose for us in the party and those in the government,” a BJP office bearer said.
The lynching has left the nation shocked and stoked communal passions in the region with the BJP coming under searing criticism from activists, writers and opposition parties, who say the party is intentionally driving a wedge between communities on the beef issue for electoral benefits.
A number of prominent writers and poets have also returned their awards, holding the central government responsible for what they call rising intolerance in the country.
Som rushed to the village soon after the incident, alleging the police framed innocent Hindu families and that the ruling Samajwadi Party was favouring the Muslim community. He warned of a backlash and said police action could lead to a repeat of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots that left more than 60 people dead and displaced thousands.
He was joined by Union tourism minister Mahesh Sharma, who called the murder an accident – remarks that attracted a warning from the BJP leadership.
Amid rising perception that sections of the saffron party were backing the perpetrators of the crime, Modi called the incident “unfortunate” and “undesirable” last week and told a poll rally that everyone should come together in the fight against poverty.
But days later, Khattar allegedly told an English newspaper that Muslims could live in India if they gave up beef — comments he denied making later. Sakshi Maharaj has also made several controversial remarks on the issue.