(India Times): The parliament erupted in anger after television footage showed a Shiv Sena leader 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.
Shiv Sena is 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 BJP government.
The footage, aired on national television, showed a group of Shiv Sena lawmakers confronting a catering supervisor on July 17 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.They were particularly peeved that Maharashtrian type of cuisine was not available at the Maharashtra Sadan where the canteen is managed by IRCTC.
The footage showed lawmaker Rajan Baburao Vichare attempting several times to push the bread into the mouth of Maharashtra Sadan canteen staffer Ashraf Zubairs.Since Zubair was observing a Ramadan fast, it is claimed that Vichare’s action broke the fast, raising a controversy which echoed in Parliament.
Shiv Sena MP Rajan Vichare, who was seen in a video clip trying to put food into the mouth of a Maharashtra Sadan staffer observing Ramadan fast, Wednesday defended his action, saying he had no idea about the man’s religion.He also said he was protesting the bad quality of food served at the state guest house in the national capital.
“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.
He 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 where all the important dignitaries come and stay,” Vichare said.
“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 Shankar Malhotra 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.Later, the manager reported the entire matter to Maharashtra Resident Commissioner in New Delhi Bipin Malik.
Reacting to the controversy, Party President Uddhav Thackeray today said the uproar over the incident was an attempt to “silence” his party’s voice.Attempting to play down the issue, he said that “it was a trivial” matter and there was no need to give it communal overtones.
He, however, said despite being a votary of Hindutva, Shiv Sena had no hatred for other religions.
“This (uproar over the incident) is an attempt to silence Shiv Sena’s voice. We are proponents of Hindutva but we don’t have hatred for other religions,” Uddhav told reporters in Aurangabad.
Party spokesperson Sanjay Raut said that these people who are trying to put a communal colour on the incident “have lost their mental balance”.
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.Vichare and some Shiv Sena MPs are residing at the New Maharashtra Sadan in central Delhi during their stay in the national capital to attend parliament’s busget session.