Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing criticism for remaining silent about incidents deemed anti-Muslim in the past week, underscoring fears that his followers will upset religious relations in the multi-faith nation.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power in May after an election campaign that mainly focused on promises to revive the economy but that also made reference to country’s majority Hindu identity.
Footage emerged this week of Shiv Sena trying to force food into the mouth of a Muslim caterer. Separately, a BJP politician questioned the national identity of tennis player Sania Mirza, while an ally of the prime minister said India could become a Hindu nation under Modi.
Several commentators said Modi’s failure to speak out about the incidents risked encouraging aggressive behaviour by fringe elements of his party and related organisations.
“The prime minister needs to come out strongly against such comments in order to reassure the minorities that their apprehensions about the intent of his regime are misplaced … Silence on his part will only encourage such elements,” a leading English daily said in an editorial.
The country has a dark history of religious violence, especially between the Hindu majority and Muslims, who account for more than 150 million people, making India the world’s third most populous Muslim nation.
Indian till the end
On Wednesday, footage was aired of the Shiv Sena MP, an ally of the BJP, trying to shove chapati, into a Muslim caterer‘s mouth during the Ramadan period of fasting.
The Shiv Sena MP, Rajan Vichare, a high school dropout and suspect in 13 criminal cases, later said he did not know the caterer was Muslim and that he was fasting. He said he had been making a point about the bad quality of the food being served.
The incident led to chaotic scenes in parliament, with one BJP member demanding that some opposition politicians be sent to Pakistan. He later apologised for his comments.
On Thursday, BJP politician K. Laxman denounced a move to name Indian tennis star Sania Mirza the brand ambassador of newborn Telangana state, calling Mirza, who is married to a Pakistani cricketer, the “daughter-in-law” of India’s rival nation.
Mirza broke down during a television interview to a local news channel and said it was unfair that she had to keep asserting her “Indianness”.
“I am an Indian who will remain an Indian until the end of my life,” she said on Thursday in a statement posted on micro-blogging site Twitter.
The BJP distanced itself from Laxman’s remarks.
“Sania Mirza is the pride of India,” cabinet minister Prakash Javadekar told continued…