Facing a political firestorm over his remarks on Muslims and beef during an interview to The Indian Express, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said today that he did not make any statement that would have “hurt anyone’s sentiments” and expressed “regret” if “anyone or any community has felt hurt”.
Hours after the interview was published, a press release issued by the Haryana government stated: “[The Chief Minister] said that we understand and respect the feelings of every religion and community in the society. He said that he did not make any statement which would have hurt anyone’s sentiments. However, if anyone or any community has felt hurt, he regrets for the same.”
However, the central leadership of the BJP distanced itself from Khattar’s remarks in the interview, even as Opposition parties in Haryana — INLD, Congress and AAP — described them as “unfortunate” and an attempt “to divide people on religious lines”.
Responding to questions on how he viewed the Dadri incident and whether or not such incidents would communally polarise the country, Khattar had said in the interview: “Muslim rahein, magar is desh mein beef khaana chhodna hi hoga unko. Yahan ki manyata hai gau.”
Asked to react to these remarks, Union Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters at the BJP headquarters in Delhi: “We respect the plurality of this country. The party has nothing to add after the Chief Minister has clarified his remarks. We believe in ‘sabka saath, sab ka vikas’.”
But Abhay Chautala, INLD MLA and Leader of Opposition in the Haryana Assembly, alleged that Khattar was acting on the behest of RSS.
“Rather than making such statements, the Chief Minister should focus more on the state’s development. He should focus on what steps need to be taken to maintain peace and harmony in the State. It appears that the statement that the Chief Minister made was on the behest of RSS,” said Chautala.
The previous Haryana CM and Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who had backed the BJP government’s Cow Protection Bill in the State Assembly this year, alleged that Khattar was trying to divert attention from the failures of the government.
“These statements are being given to divert the attention of people from the failures of the government. Over the last year, this government has miserably failed on all fronts. The cow should be respected but we should not play politics in its name,” Hooda said.
In Punjab, former Congress CM Capt Amarinder Singh tweeted: “Haryana CM #Khattar!!! What does Muslims ‘CAN’ live in India mean??? They are as much an integral part of India as you and me”.
Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar also posted a tweet criticising Khattar: “Has ML Khattar forgotten that he is the leader of a democratic nation… It is an old tactic of BJP to divide people in the name of religion”.
Kiran Choudhry, leader of the Haryana Congress Legislature Party, described Khattar’s remarks as “immature”.
“Such immature remarks from the Chief Minister tend to tear apart the secular fabric of our state and the country, and need to be condemned. It may cause social tensions which can snarl growth… and make prospective investors stop in their tracks. The CM’s remarks reveal the real mindset of the BJP and take the lid off its internal agenda,” said Choudhry, a former state excise and taxation minister.
Punjab AAP convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur described Khattar’s remarks as “very unfortunate”. “Such a statement coming from a chief minister whose primary duty is to safeguard the life and interests of people and take steps for their welfare is very unfortunate. How can the Haryana Chief Minister decide who should eat what and wear what?” Chhotepur said.
The Haryana government press release stated that the Chief Minister “has full devotion in the practice of ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhav’ and believes in taking ahead all sections of the society together”.
The release stated that when the Haryana Vidhan Sabha passed the Gau Sanrakshan Avm Gau Samwardhan Bill in 2015, “all sections of the society had supported it”. It also pointed to the support the legislation had received at the recent Bhartiya Muslim Gau Palak Sammelan in Mewat, where the Muslim community “had willingly given an assurance that they would not resort to cow slaughter on any religious occasion”.
In a wide-ranging interview that lasted over an hour, Khattar had also elaborated on his government’s achievements over the last year since coming to power in Haryana, and said that it had rebuilt the people’s confidence.
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