Minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju has described as “unpalatable” his colleague Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s remarks that those who eat beef should go to Pakistan, and questioned whether anyone could stop him from eating beef.
Rijiju belongs to Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast, where beef is a staple in the diet of several states with large Christian populations. His remarks came four days after Naqvi, the minister of state for minority affairs, justified the ban on cow slaughter .
“I eat beef, I’m from Arunachal Pradesh, can somebody stop me? So let us not be touchy about somebody’s practices,” Rijiju said during a visit to Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, on Tuesday.
“This is a democratic country. Sometimes, some statements are made which are not palatable,” he was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.
“If a Mizo Christian says that this is the land of Jesus, why should someone have a problem in Punjab or Haryana? We have to honour the sentiments of each place and each location,” Rijiju said.
Naqvi, one of the most prominent Muslim faces of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had asked people who want to eat beef to go to Pakistan while speaking at a conclave organised by a TV channel last Thursday.
“It is not about loss or profit... it is an issue of faith and belief. It is a sensitive issue for the Hindus," Naqvi said. "Those who are dying without eating beef, can go to Pakistan or Arab countries or any other part of world where it is available.”
But Rijiju indicated that laws on issues such as cow slaughter should be made according to the wishes of the people of a particular state.
“If Maharashtra is Hindu majority, or if Gujarat is Hindu majority, Madhya Pradesh is Hindu majority, if they are to make laws which are conducive to the Hindu faith, let them be,” he said.
“But in our place, in our state where we are majority, where we feel whatever steps we take, you know, laws which are conducive to our beliefs, it should be. So they also should not have a problem with the way we live, and we also should not have a problem with the way they live.”
Rijiju said India is “a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-communal country” and people “must respect each other’s practices”.
“There cannot be any force on anybody about your practices, your faith. So if anybody makes a statement which is forcing or imposing your belief, your faith, your practices on another community, another believer, it is not good,” he said.
BJP leaders in the northeast, some of them Christians, have often been ambiguous on the issue of banning cow slaughter because of the food habits of the indigenous people.
After the media extensively reported on his remarks, Rijiju sought to play down the issue and said there can be no restrictions on food habits in a secular country like India but the sentiments of the majority should be respected in all states, irrespective of whether the majority is Hindu, Christian or Muslim.
“When the civil societies and press asked me if they have to go to Pakistan for beef consumption, I said India is a secular country and food habits cannot be stopped but the Hindu faith and sentiment must be respected in Hindu-majority states, same as other communities have rights in their own dominant states," he said.
"I told them that when we visit Hindu-majority Maharashtra or Gujarat, we must respect the sentiments of the majority and should not do anything which would hurt the sentiments of the majority,” he added.
"Similarly, when someone visits a Christian-majority or Muslim-majority area, they should respect the sentiments of majority local people.”
He further said, "In India there is a new fashion where a balanced view is disregarded and anybody who speaks against Hindus is treated as secular. The PM has a vision for 1.2 billion Indians and let us not be divided on communal lines."