Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav hit out at the BJP on Friday, accusing the party of trying to polarise the state on communal lines, and said people in the country should be free to choose what they eat or wear.
Speaking on the first day of the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, the 42-year-old leader held the Sangh Parivar responsible for incidents such as the lynching of a Muslim man in Bisada village on rumours of cow slaughter and the controversial religious conversion programmes called “ghar wapsi”.
“It is easy to be communal and difficult to be secular,” he said.
The chief minister asserted the people had the “right to eat and wear whatever they want”, but skirted a pointed question on whether his support extended to the right to eat beef.
He countered calls to remove senior cabinet colleague Azam Khan -- known to make controversial statements -- saying the minister had the right to comment in his individual capacity.
“The difference with the Samajwadis is that we speak our mind openly and publicly.”
Still, will he remove Azam Khan from the cabinet? “Why should I?” Yadav shot back, underlining that the relation between his father, uncle (Amar Singh) and Chacha (Azam Khan) would continue as always.
The emotive issue of beef consumption has divided the nation in recent months as hardline Hindu groups have pushed for a nationwide ban on cow slaughter with minority groups resisting the move.
Several instances have been reported from various parts of the country this year of people being attacked and sometimes killed over rumours of butchering or smuggling of cattle.
Activists and opposition parties have blamed the BJP of not doing enough to rein in Hindu fringe elements and stoking communal passions for electoral benefits.