Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Hindus and Muslims on Thursday to fight poverty together and ignore “irresponsible” comments from politicians, in what is being seen as a stern message to rabble-rousers making incendiary statements about a mob lynching last week over cow-slaughter rumours.
Modi’s pitch for religious harmony came amid a growing clamour for him to speak on 55-year-old Mohammad Ikhlaq’s killing in Uttar Pradesh that sparked widespread outrage and a larger debate on the subject of beef ban.
“I have said this before and I will repeat myself,” the Prime Minister said at an election rally in Nawada, referring to a statement he made two years ago following a bomb attack on his public meeting in Patna. “We should decide if Hindus want to fight Muslims or poverty. Muslims must decide if they want to fight Hindus or poverty. Hindus and Muslims must unite to fight poverty and defeat it.”
Modi also asked citizens to follow President Pranab Mukherjee’s message this week on preserving the core civilisational values of diversity, tolerance and plurality, days after the PM was panned by rivals for failing to rein in BJP leaders who have stoked sectarian tensions following the violent incident in UP’s Bisada village.
“Some politicians are making irresponsible statements for political interests... Such statements should end... Do not pay attention to such statements, even if Modi himself makes them,” he emphasised, during a whirlwind campaign for the crucial election. “It is the unity, communal harmony, brotherhood and peace that will take the nation forward.”
The crime has raised fears of communal unrest in parts of the country and has been covered widely by local and international media at a time when the Prime Minister has been hard-selling India to foreign investors in a bid to shore up the economy.
Watch | PM Modi breaks silence on Dadri killing
Modi’s remarks came hours after he tore into RJD chief Lalu Prasad at another rally, where he accused the rival leader of smearing his Yadav community by saying “they, too, eat beef”.
“Look at how these leaders are insulting Yaduvanshis (Yadavs). Look at the kind of abuses they throw at you,” the PM said. “Laluji, whatever you have become, it is because of the blessings of these Yaduvanshis. And you abuse them so much now?”
His statements prompted a sharp reaction from chief minister Nitish Kumar of the JD(U), who has joined hands with former rival Prasad as part of a grand alliance to take on a BJP-led coalition in the caste-riddled eastern state.
“The real Modi on display— brazen attempt to add communal texture to Bihar polls, but deafening silence on deplorable incidence of Dadri,” Kumar tweeted after Modi’s attack on the RJD leader.
(With agency inputs)