The BJP on Friday sought to distance itself from Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s alleged remarks that Muslims would have to give up beef, saying it was not the party’s stand.
Khattar’s comments reported in an English daily triggered a political firestorm in an already charged atmosphere, with the Congress demanding the CM be sacked as it questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of good governance.
“The views expressed by Khattar are not that of the party. I will talk to him and will advise him. It is wrong to say like that,” parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu said.
“This is not the BJP’s position.... It is not correct to link eating habits to religion,” he said, adding eating was a personal choice and people should keep sentiments of others in mind.
In recent days, writers and poets from across the country including Punjab -- Haryana’s neighbour -- have returned awards to protest against what they say is the growing environment of intolerance in the country and attempts to silent voices of dissent.
“Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef as the cow is an article of faith here,” the Indian Express quoted the CM as saying while talking about the lynching of a Muslim man in Dadri following rumours he had eaten beef.
Khattar, too, tried damage control, saying his remarks were distorted following which the English daily put up the audio recording of the interview on its website.
The chief minister, a former RSS pracharak who often shoots off his mouth, later said “… if the sentiments of anyone have been hurt with my words, I am ready to express my regret”.
The opposition was unmoved. “Sad day for India’s democracy! CM Khattarji will now decide qualifications for Indian citizenship. Is this new model of governance Modiji?” said Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, who is also a lawmaker from Haryana.
His party colleague Rashid Alvi said Khattar’s comments were unconstitutional and he had no right to continue as the chief minister.
Janata Dal (U) chief Sharad Yadav said BJP leaders often taunted Muslims and asked them to go to Pakistan but what would they do with the people in the Northeast where beef is eaten? “They will have to understand that India is not Europe or China. It is a diverse country,” he said.
Earlier, Naidu and cabinet colleague Ashok Gajapathi Raju criticised the Dadri lynching that has seen the opposition accuse the BJP-led government at the Centre of trying to polarise the country along religious lines.
Anyone with an element of humanity would condemn the incident and such things must be checked, aviation minister Raju said. His junior minister Mahesh Sharma had triggered a controversy when he termed Mohammad Ikhlaq’s murder an accident.
Naidu alleged there was a “systematic and massive” malicious campaign against Modi to divert attention from PM’s focus on development.