Shiv Sena MP forces Muslim man to break fast, raises political storm
A Shiv Sena MP, who was seen in a video clip trying to force food into the mouth of a Muslim staffer of Maharashtra Sadan who was observing the Ramadan fast, kicked off a political storm Wednesday, with parliament witnessing an uproar.
While the Congress targeted the Narendra Modi government for the act, which they described as a "crime against secularism", the government first refused to comment on the issue as it involved a key ally, but seeing an angry opposition, offered to probe the matter.
Shiv Sena MP Rajan Vichare, who was in the midst of the controversy, defended his action, saying he had no idea about the man's religion - even though he had his name badge on. However, he later expressed regret over his action.
"I respect all religions. The staffer was wearing a civil dress and had no badge that could identify him. I had no idea that he was Muslim," said Vichare, a first-time Lok Sabha member from Thane. He was also mayor of Thane city.
"We were protesting the bad quality food we were getting at the Sadan. We should get good quality food. But it is not so... we were given half cooked vegetables and chapatis that were difficult to even break into two pieces. We did not do anything on purpose," Vichare told media persons outside Maharashtra Sadan.
He said he came to know that the employee was a Muslim only after seeing TV footage, and that he regretted his act.
Shiv Sena 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 L.K. 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 P.J. 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 the 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.
Kurien instructed the government to "ascertain the facts and come back to the house".
The issue was also raised in the Lok Sabha during zero hour by Congress MP from Wayanad in Kerala, M.I. Shanavas.
"The MPs who have to be a role model have done this. This house should condemn this," he said.
However, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said no comments should be made on the issue as the facts of the incidents had not been established yet.
"Whatever has to be done, the government will do," he added.
There was however huge pandemonium when Shiv Sena MP and union Heavy Industries Minister Anant Geete said no such incident took place at the Maharashtra Sadan.
But soon TV channels started flashing a video clip shot by a local channel, which clearly showed that Vichare was trying to force a chapatti into the staffer's mouth.
The staffer was seen pleading with the MPs who were angry over the poor quality of food served at the state guest house.
Vichare and some other Shiv Sena MPs are staying at the New Maharashtra Sadan in central Delhi.
In the Lok Sabha too, members from almost all parties trooped near Speaker Sumitra Mahajan's podium, forcing her to adjourn the house for 15 minutes.
When the house reassembled, BJP member Ramesh Bidhuri was made to apologise for his conduct.
Outside parliament, the Congress criticised the Shiv Sena MP's behaviour.
Congress leader M. Veerappa Moily said the incident was the "biggest crime against secularism in the country".
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said the incident obstructed an individual's right to practice his religion, which is guaranteed by the constitution.
"This is against the very basic tenets of the constitution which provides freedom to every individual to preach or practice his religion," Azad added.
As the incident snowballed into a major controversy, Thackeray said in Aurangabad: "We may have a Hindutva agenda, but we shall never play with the religious sentiments of any community."
Party spokesperson Sanjay Raut said people who were trying to put a communal colour to the incident "have lost their mental balance".
MP Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen said: "I am not surprised with the Shiv Sena MP's behaviour. The question is that even if the employee named Arshad was not a Muslim, he should not have been treated this way. This is unbecoming."
"The Maharastra resident commissioner should register a complaint against the MPs. After all forcefully breaking the fast of a Muslim is hurting his religious sentiments," Owaisi added.
(Posted on 23-07-2014)