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Roti regret, minus crux

New Delhi, July 25: Home minister Rajnath Singh today termed “regrettable and unfortunate” some Shiv Sena MPs’ act of force-feeding a Muslim canteen employee, reading from a written statement but skipping a key paragraph that reaffirmed the constitutional guarantees on religious freedom.

Rajnath read only four of the five paragraphs in the statement, made in Hindi, including one expressing regret. “The incident was regrettable and unfortunate,” the minister told the Rajya Sabha.

The “regret” was voiced on behalf of BJP ally Sena, some of whose MPs claimed they didn’t know the religion of the Maharashtra Sadan canteen employee when they tried to stuff a chapatti into his mouth while he was on Ramazan fast.

However, the paragraph that Rajnath skipped was central to the row as it underlined the guarantees on religious freedom that the Sena MPs are accused of violating in the food-rage incident.

“Our government is committed to safeguarding the religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution to its citizens. I would like to appeal to all honourable members that we should all make constant efforts for maintaining religious harmony,” reads the paragraph that Rajnath missed.

Statements, even if not read aloud in Parliament, can be tabled and the last paragraph too would be part of the House records. But such exclusions mean losing a chance to send a clear message.

In this case, reading the paragraph would have served as a reminder to another BJP ally, Goa’s Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, whose minister Dipak Dhavalikar had yesterday declared in the Assembly he was confident that “under the leadership of Modiji, India will develop into a Hindu nation”.

In his Rajya Sabha speech, Rajnath cited a report from the Congress-NCP government of Maharashtra that spoke of a “few honourable members of Parliament expressing objection to the quality of food”.

Rajnath also said “no complaint had been filed” by Arshad Zubair, the fasting IRCTC supervisor into whose mouth Thane MP Rajan Vichare tried to thrust the chapatti, or the resident commissioner of the Sadan where the rail firm provided catering services. It stopped doing so after the incident.