New Delhi: Even as Prime Minister Modi and senior ministers are trying to convince the world that their government does not discriminate between people on the basis of religion, a BJP MLA from Uttar Pradesh, Suresh Tiwari, has asked people in his district – Deoria – not to buy vegetables from Muslim vendors if they want to protect themselves from Coronavirus.
“Ek cheez dhayan mein rakhiyega, main bol raha hoon openly, koi bhi miyan ke hathon sabzi nahi lega” (Keep one thing in mind, I am telling everyone openly, no one should purchase vegetables from Muslims), Tiwari can be heard saying at a gathering which was also attended by state government officials.
A video in which Tiwari, the BJP MLA from Barhaj constituency, was making the communal comment, has been circulating on social media. On asked about it, the legislator confirmed to the Indian Express the authenticity of the video. He told the newspaper that he had made the statement this past week.
In remarks to the media later on Tuesday, Tiwari confirmed he had made that statement “sometime on April 17-18″ and defended what he said.
“After hearing complaints that Miyans [a derogatory term for Muslims] were selling vegetables after spitting on them, I advised the people not to purchase vegetables from them and save themselves from the coronavirus… I am a legislator, listening to a complaint, what is wrong in what I said?”.
Speaking to the Indian Express, he referred to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi in March following which hundreds of COVID-19 cases were infected – most likely from foreign delegates allowed to enter India from countries which were not listed as pandemic-affected then – and added, “Everyone can see what Jamaat members have done in the country.”
Aside from communalising the COVID-19 pandemic, many right-wing handles have also been promoting fake videos on social media platforms accusing the Muslims of contaminating food in order to spread the virus.
After backlash, BJP condemns statement
According to PTI, UP BJP spokesperson Chandra Mohan said the party would look into the circumstances in which the MLA issued such the statement. “At this moment, it is the responsibility of all to act responsibly and work in a manner which encourages unity,” he said.
Soon after there was a civil society backlash against the legislator’s statement, the BJP issued a notice to him, asking him to explain his statement.
BJP national president J.P. Nadda said that the MLA’s statement was irresponsible and will not be tolerated by the party. He also urged other BJP legislators not to make such comments in the future. Nadda directed the Uttar Pradesh unit of the BJP to take due action against the MLA.
The Wire tried reaching Deoria’s Superintendent of Police Sripati Mishra for a comment but he did not pick multiple calls.
However, the Deoria police posted its response on the matter on social media. “Efforts were made to reach the honourable MLA regarding the video but he could not make himself available. However, after probing the matter, it was found that according to the news circulating on social media the MLA made the statement as an answer to a personal question by one party worker. At the local level, there is no notable reaction to the statement,” the Deoria police tweeted.
— DEORIA POLICE (@deoriapolice) April 28, 2020
This suggests the police is unlikely to file any criminal charges in the matter. The Wire has asked both Deoria Police and Uttar Pradesh police via their official Twitter handles what action is likely and will update the story if and when they respond.