Uttar Pradesh BJP leader Keshav Prasad Maurya, apparently furious at questions on hate speeches at the Haridwar Dharma Sansad, stopped an interview midway, snatched the reporter’s mask and forced the crew to delete footage, BBC has said.
Mr Maurya, the Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister, later called it an “unfortunate incident”, according to the broadcaster.
In the BBC video, the interviewer asks Mr Maurya about the religious conclave and the silence of top leaders of the party, including UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, on hate speeches.
Asked whether leaders should reassure people by speaking up against such pronouncements, Mr Maurya said: “We don’t need to prove ourselves. We believe in ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas (development and support of all). Religious leaders have the right to express themselves.”
He also questioned why only Hindu religious leaders were in the spotlight.
“Why are you only asking about Hindu leaders? What about comments made by other religious leaders? How many had to leave Jammu and Kashmir before Article 370 was scrapped, why don’t you talk about that? When you raise questions, they should not be for only one group. Dharma Sansad is not a BJP event. It is of religious leaders,” he said.
“Seers can say what they believe in. This is not related to politics. And there are Muslim and Christian leaders too. Talk about them too.”
The interviewer pointed out that it was not unrelated to politics as such speeches vitiated the atmosphere ahead of polls. He also raised sedition charges over slogans raised at India-Pakistan match.
“Sedition is a different issue. But this is a Dharma Sansad. Then we can say the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has no right to protest against Surya Namaskar,” Mr Maurya replied.
When pressed about genocide calls raised at the controversial religious conclave, he said: “I don’t know what video you are talking about. Are you asking about elections? You are not talking like a journalist. You are talking like the agent of a specific group. I won’t talk to you. “
The Deputy Chief Minister then took off his mic as the video abruptly ended.
While campaigning for elections in Uttar Pradesh and four more states, the BJP has been facing questions about the Dharma Sansad, in which calls for violence and genocide targeting Muslims were made by Hindu religious leaders, many of them flaunting their links to the ruling party.
Students and faculty of the premier IIM (Indian Institute of Management) recently urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an open letter to speak up against the hate speeches.
“Your silence, Honourable Prime Minister, emboldens the hate-filled voices and threatens the unity and integrity of our country. We request you, Honourable Prime Minister, to stand firm against forces that seek to divide us,” the open letter said.