NEW DELHI: India’s parliament was adjourned on Monday over uproar after television footage showed a lawmaker from the Hindu hardline nationalist outfit Shiv Sena, a key ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), apparently trying to force-feed a Muslim man during the fasting month of Ramazan.
Opposition Congress MPs said the lawmaker had violated the man’s religious beliefs by aggressively trying to shove a chapati 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 footage showed lawmaker Rajan Baburao Vichare attempting several times to push the bread into a catering supervisor’s mouth as a crowd gathered last Thursday in New Delhi.
The party said the MPs did not know the man was Muslim or fasting. 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 said.
The catering facility is run by the catering wing of Indian Railways, itself affiliated to trade unions. Within hours, it stopped all operations in protest, and complained in writing to the Maharashtra resident commissioner, saying the employee, Arshad Zubair, had been “deeply pained and hurt… 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.
The resident commissioner subsequently apologised to IRCTC and Arshad, and asked to “meet him personally (to) convey the sentiments of our government”.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray said that it was no one’s intention to hurt the religious sentiments of any person while Sena MP Sanjay Raut said, “There seems a plot to give a communal twist to the entire episode.”
Senior BJP leaders including Uma Bharti refused to comment on the episode. However, senior BJP leader LK Advani is said to have been ‘deeply pained’ by the incident.
Maharashtra, the province to which Shiv Sena belongs, is to go to the polls in the next few months. The BJP and Shiv Sena are currently in the opposition in Maharashtra. 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.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2014.