Video footage of a Shiv Sena MP forcing a fasting Muslim worker to eat at a state guest house triggered outrage in Parliament and social media on Wednesday, but the government said the allegations were unsubstantiated.
Opposition parties demanded action as television channels showed footage of the Thane MP, Rajan Vichare, apparently upset over the poor quality of food, thrusting a chapati into the Maharashtra Sadan catering supervisor’s mouth. The employee, who had his name tag on his shirt, was seen pleading with Vichare and 10 other Shiv Sena MPs to excuse him as he was fasting.
Two MPs almost came to blows in the Lok Sabha and parliament was adjourned over the incident, which is a huge political embarrassment for the ruling coalition as the Shiv Sena is a part of the National Democratic Alliance.
BJP member Ramesh Bidhuri and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi faced off as union heavy industries minister Anant Geete defended his party MPs. “Those who want to respect the month of Ramzan should not make false statements in the house … the Congress is trying to tarnish the image of the Narendra Modi government,” Geete said.
Pandemonium broke as South Delhi MP Bidhuri rushed to the well of the house, shouting at opposition members. Owaisi said Bidhuri charged at him shouting, “Muslims should go to Pakistan and even gestured to cut down them to pieces.”
Parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu, who tried to calm frayed tempers, said the government did not approve of Bidhuri’s actions and asked him to apologise.
However, Naidu insisted the allegations against the Sena MP had to be verified. “We are dealing with a sensitive issue … Don’t try to raise communal passions. Nobody knows the truth. Whether the incident has happened or not, we are not sure,” Naidu said.
The BJP did not issue a formal statement condemning the allegations against its largest alliance partner. BJP patriarch LK Advani was the only senior party leader to comment on the controversy. “It was wrong,” he said.
Sena MPs initially denied the incident which was reported by Indian Express. But as the video footage went viral, Vichare finally apologised. “I came to know that the employee was a Muslim only after seeing TV footage and I regret it,” he said. He added that he was only trying to draw the attention of authorities to the poor quality of food served at Maharashtra Sadan.
Several opposition members wrote to the Lok Sabha Speaker demanding an inquiry into the incident which they said was an “attack on secularism”.
“We would request you to uphold the dignity of the house by ordering an inquiry … so that such wanton behaviour is no longer repeated,” they wrote.
The National Commission for Minorities said it would probe the matter following a complaint by activist Shehzad Poonawala.
Angry Muslims demanded the suspension and arrest of the MPs. “What is more shocking is Parliament took the matter lightly. What can we expect in the Modi government,” said Zafarul Islam Khan of the All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat.