Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke out for the first time on the lynching of a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh and the cancellation of Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali’s concerts in Maharashtra, but said his government had no role in the incidents which he dubbed “unfortunate” and “undesirable”.
Modi also hit out at the opposition for its “disinformation campaign” that targeted his “deafening silence” on the mob killing of 55-year-old Muhammad Ikhlaq in Dadri municipality’s Bisada village over cow-slaughter rumours, an attack that transfixed the nation and raised sectarian concerns.
“The Dadri incident or opposition to (the) Pakistani singer is undesirable and unfortunate. But what is the central government’s relation with these incidents,” he told the Bengali newspaper Ananda Bazar Patrika in an interview that came out on Wednesday.
“(The) BJP always opposed pseudo-secularism. Now again this debate is taking place in the face of unfortunate social malaise... The BJP has never supported such incidents. By highlighting such incidents, opposition parties are making accusations of communalism against the BJP but aren’t they actually resorting to politics of polarisation through such tactics.”
His words triggered a political storm, as BJP ally Shiv Sena, which forced the cancellation of the ghazal events in Maharashtra, called his views on the matter “unfortunate” and raked up the 2002 Gujarat riots when Modi was chief minister to hit back at him.
“The world knows Narendra Modi due to Godhra and Ahmedabad and we respect him for the same reason,” Sena MP Sanjay Raut told reporters in Mumbai. “If the same Narendra Modi has called the controversy surrounding Ghulam Ali and (former Pakistan minister) Khurshid Kasuri unfortunate, then it is indeed unfortunate for all of us.”
The Prime Minister’s latest statements also drew criticism from rival parties as the Congress said he was suffering from selective amnesia and urged him to “stop deceiving the nation”.
“In the midst of a motivated hate campaign orchestrated by the BJP, Modi’s statement brushing aside the Dadri tragedy as merely a ‘sad incident’ is extremely unfortunate and inhumane to say the least,” the Congress party’s chief spokesperson, Randeep Singh Surjewala, told the media. “He is suffering from selective amnesia and has forgotten that he is the Prime Minister of the entire country and that safety and protecting the life of 125 crore citizens of India is his responsibility.”
Modi’s remarks came against the backdrop of growing demands for him to condemn the Dadri killing and rein in party hardliners who were using the incident to stoke communal tensions.
Many media reports and analysts said Modi had broken his silence on the UP mob killing when he told an election rally in Bihar last week that Hindus and Muslims should not fight each other but jointly fight poverty. However, he made no reference to the lynching.
The PM’s interview was released a day after BJP chief Amit Shah told the India Today TV channel that the Dadri killers should be punished and party leader Sangeet Som, an accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots, should not have visited Baisada village after the attack, but blamed the state government for failing to maintain law and order.
“Where did the murder take place? It is the responsibility of the Samajwadi Party government,” he said. “Whoever has done....this is wrong. They should be arrested and punished.”
The CPI dismissed Modi’s latest remarks on the Dadri incident as “too little and too late”.
“The lynching incident was directly related to the BJP and the Sangh Parivar,” said party MP D Raja. “The prime minister saying the government has nothing to do with the incident is dereliction of duty because he is the prime minister and has a mandate to uphold constitutional values.”
The incidents have provided political fodder to the BJP’s rivals in Bihar where assembly elections are on. RJD chief Lalu Prasad, whose party is part of the grand alliance led by chief minister Nitish Kumar, asked whether Modi had truly broken his silence on the Bisada episode.
“Is this the way to do things – to beat someone, to kill someone and then say sorry,” he told ANI. “Whether it is the BJP, RSS or Modi, they say something in the evening and change their stance by morning.”
The mob lynching in UP, the concert cancellations and the ink attack by the Sena on former BJP leader Sudheendra Kulkarni for organising the launch of Kasuri’s book have heightened worries about growing intolerance in multi-faith India.
While the NDA government has faced a barrage of criticism from several quarters, many prominent writers have returned prestigious awards to express their anger.
“Unfortunate is a very weak term and the leader of the country should be morally responsible for whatever is happening in your country,” author Shashi Deshpande told PTI, days after she resigned from the Sahitya Akademi to register her protest. “People have elected you and a few words from the leader of the country makes a lot of difference.”