NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence Wednesday over the lynching of a Muslim man suspected of eating beef, calling it “unfortunate”, after criticism over his failure to speak out.
Modi accused the opposition of trying to stir up controversy over the incident last month in which Mohammad Akhlaq was dragged from his home and beaten to death over rumours he had eaten beef.
Cows are considered sacred by Hindus, and beef eating has become a highly contentious issue since Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power, with several states banning the practice.
The attack in the northern town of Dadri on the outskirts of India’s capital came against a background of growing concern over the influence of Hindu nationalist groups.
Last week one group with ties to the BJP forced the cancellation of a concert by a well-known Pakistani singer in the western city of Mumbai.
“The Dadri incident and refusal to allow the Pakistani singer to hold a concert are unfortunate and unwanted incidents,” Modi told the Ananda Bazar Patrika daily in comments published Wednesday.
“The BJP has never supported such acts. The opposition is trying to level charges of communalism against the BJP, but in doing so, they are themselves indulging in the politics of polarisation,” he told the Bengali-language daily.
Modi has repeatedly appealed for religious unity in India, but critics say his failure to condemn such attacks is emboldening the Hindu right and encouraging intolerance towards Muslims and other religious minorities.
They are concerned by his failure to slap down prominent BJP members who make potentially inflammatory comments — such as Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, who recently dismissed the Dadri killing as an “accident”.
On Tuesday the author Salman Rushdie said that Modi’s silence was giving rise to a new culture of “thuggish violence” in India.