NEW DELHI: Parliament erupted in anger yesterday after television footage showed a hardline Hindu nationalist lawmaker apparently trying to force-feed a Muslim man during the fasting month of Ramadan.
Opposition Congress MPs launched raucous protests in the parliament, saying the lawmaker had violated the man’s religious beliefs by aggressively trying to shove a chapati or piece of bread in his mouth.
“It is absolutely reprehensible and should be condemned in the strongest possible manner,” Congress party spokesman Manish Tewari later told reporters.
The lawmaker is from the hardline Hindu nationalist outfit Shiv Sena, a key ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party which swept to power at May elections.
The incident is likely to fan concern among Muslims and other religious minorities over Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
The footage, aired on national television, showed a group of Shiv Sena lawmakers confronting a catering supervisor last Thursday in New Delhi.
The lawmakers were complaining about the quality of food offered at a guest house for officials from the state of Maharashtra, where Shiv Sena is based.
The footage showed lawmaker Rajan Baburao Vichare attempting several times to push the bread into the supervisor’s mouth as a crowd gathered.
Vichare said he was not trying to break the supervisor’s religious fast. Instead he was trying to demonstrate that the chapatis being served were too hard.
“This was only a protest against the quality of food and other arrangements at the Maharashtra Sadan (guest house) where all the important dignitaries come and stay,” Vichare told Headlines Today news channel.
“The canteen management here is in a bad state. The chapatis they made didn’t even break, the quality of vegetables and pulses is bad.”
“Making this a religious issue doesn’t make sense,” he said.
The catering company’s general manager said the supervisor had been “deeply pained and hurt” over the incident as “religious sentiments are attached”.
The manager said the lawmakers had marched into the dining hall last week flanked by television crews and threw kitchen items around.
“They also issued physical threats to the kitchen and service staff while using highly objectionable language,” the manager said in an email to a Maharashtra government official, which was obtained by the Indian Express newspaper.
Shiv Sena, which has a history of intimidation and creating unrest against minorities, won 18 seats at the election and is now the sixth biggest party in parliament.
Party chief Uddhav Thackeray decried attempts to ‘communalise’ the issue and attempted to play it down by describing it as a “trivial” matter. Though all BJP leaders and ministers, including union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, refused to comment on the matter, party patriarch LK Advani just said “this is wrong.”
But the opposition was unrelenting.
Vichare’s action had hurt the religious sentiments of the Muslims, MP after MP said.
The Congress, which was on a back foot for the past two days following Press Council of India chief Justice Markandey Katju’s allegation of corruption in judicial appointments during the Manmohan Singh government’s tenure, lapped up the opportunity to hit out at the Modi government.
The Congress slammed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government both inside and outside parliament.
In the Rajya Sabha, opposition members disrupted the proceedings of the house after the question hour, forcing Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien to adjourn the house for 10 minutes.
The issue was later raised again by Ali Anwar Ansari of the Janata Dal-United in the zero hour, who called it an insult to Indian culture and social tolerance.
Responding to the members, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Prakash Javadekar said that government will probe the facts.
“These are unsubstantiated reports. We should not take it to the next level. Let us understand what exactly happened,” Javadekar said.Agencies