Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a lot on his plate, including delivering on election promises to revitalize the economy.
Adding to his headaches are ill-chosen words by one of his own cabinet ministers.
Niranjan Jyoti, minister of food-processing industries, told voters in Delhi they had to decide whether their city should be governed by “the children of Ram or bastard children”.
The comment by Jyoti – a Hindu nun, or sadhvi — was widely understood as a strident attack on the legitimacy of India’s Muslim and Christian minorities, and has severely embarrassed Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata party, the Financial Times reported.
Jyoti was forced to apologise publicly in both houses of parliament Tuesday, insisting she saw Muslims and Christians as also being children of Ram, a Hindu deity.
Opposition parties have condemned the remarks, demanding that Jyoti give up her ministry and be charged under the law against stirring enmity between different religions.
“Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti must be asked to resign from the ministry,” the Indian Express newspaper demanded in an editorial Wednesday.
“At best, her continuation as minister is a distraction from Modi’s stated agenda for change. At worst, it suggests that this government’s professions to be religion-neutral provide a cover for the free rein it seems to give to a lengthening line of bigots and chauvinists.”
Modi has sought to jettison the BJP’s reputation as a party of Hindu chauvinism and hostility to minorities and remake its image as a forward-looking party focused on bringing economic development and prosperity to a young, restless population, the Financial Times said.
The comments reflect a growing problem for the prime minister, whose party is home to many who propagate hateful messages against minorities.
One such message claims that a “love jihad” conspiracy is under way to encourage romance between young Muslim men and Hindu women to increase the minority population.
Modi has made no public statements on the affair, but the BJP has let it be known that he was livid at a closed-door meeting with party lawmakers, who were told to avoid speaking out of turn and focus on their constituencies.
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