Shiv Sena MP Rajan Vichare (left) forcibly thrusting a chapati into the mouth of catering supervisor Arshad Zubair (photo: PTI)
First a Shiv Sena MP forces a fasting Muslim worker to eat at a state guesthouse; when it reaches the news, the honourable MP initially denies this incident took place; then when a video surfaces and goes viral, the MP apologises, but claims that he had no idea the staffer was a Muslim; a day later, his party’s mouthpiece declares that the food in the guesthouse was an insult to ‘Marathi people’ and the Chief Minister of Maharashtra should be force-fed this food. Can the Shiv Sena not give up its thuggish mentality?
Thane MP Rajan Vichare sparked the controversy when, apparently upset over the poor quality of food at Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi, forcibly thrust a chapati into the mouth of catering supervisor Arshad Zubair.
In a video clip that emerged on Wednesday, Zubair had his nametag on his shirt and was seen pleading with Vichare and 10 other Shiv Sena MPs to excuse him as he was fasting for Ramadan.
This incident triggered outrage in Parliament and on social media, with the Opposition demanding action against the Thane MP for his “attack on secularism”. Two MPs almost came to blows in the Lok Sabha over the issue.
This controversy comes as a huge embarrassment for the NDA government as the right-wing Shiv Sena is part of the ruling alliance. Parliamentary Affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu insisted the allegations against the Sena MP had to be verified.
“We are dealing with a sensitive issue ... Don't try to raise communal passions. Nobody knows the truth. Whether the incident has happened or not, we are not sure," Naidu told the media.
The BJP did not issue any formal statement condemning the incident, but senior party leader LK Advani said the action by the Shiv Sena MP “was wrong”.
In his defence, Vichare claimed that he was only trying to draw the attention of authorities to the poor quality of food served at Maharashtra Sadan. "I came to know that the employee was a Muslim only after seeing TV footage and I regret it," he said.
The Shiv Sena MP is a first-time member of Parliament. According to his election affidavit, he is already facing 13 criminal cases for causing hurt by endangering the life or personal safety of others, rioting, being armed with a deadly weapon, and wrong restraint and confinement.
This unnecessary controversy comes at a crucial time in national and state politics. Maharashtra goes to the polls later this year, which the BJP-Shiv Sena combine is largely expected to win. The Shiv Sena, whose entire political platform is the promotion of Marathi interests, is trying to paint this whole controversy as an attack on Marathi culture. The BJP naturally has to stand by its beleaguered partner.
The Opposition, meanwhile, is still smarting from its washout in the recent general election, and has jumped on this controversy, claiming it to be a sign of an impending attack on religious freedom under the new Modi administration. With Muslim-majority Jammu & Kashmir also facing a state election later this year, it suits Opposition parties to play up the incident as an attack on Muslims.
In this war of words between political parties, what may well be forgotten is the violent behaviour of the Thane MP who started it in the first place. The question now being asked is: why should a member of Parliament not be arrested for taking the law into his own hands?