A Lok Sabha MP has become the latest BJP lawmaker to be accused of linking Muslims to the spread of Covid-19, singling out Tablighi Jamaat members while announcing a Rs 11,000 reward for anyone informing him about suspected cases in his constituency.
“I appeal to the people of Salempur to inform me about those who have come from other places — there is suspicion that some people have come from the Jamaat and may be infected,” Ravindra Kushwaha, MP from Salempur in Deoria district, is purportedly seen saying in a video.
“I shall give a reward of Rs 11,000 to those who give me this information and also to those who come forward and inform me about their infection.”
Kushwaha, while talking to local reporters on Thursday, acknowledged issuing the appeal.
Many BJP leaders and social media users have been blaming the spread of Covid-19 principally on the Jamaat, which held a large congregation in Delhi in March days before the lockdown began.
The Yogi Adityanath government’s daily Covid-19 updates separately mention the number of patients suspected to have attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation.
Many Right-wing Netizens have accused the Jamaat — and Muslims in general — of spreading the virus deliberately, for instance, by spitting on vegetables.
A few days ago, Barhaj MLA Suresh Tiwari of the BJP had warned his followers not to buy vegetables from Muslim vendors.
On Wednesday, Brijbhushan Rajput, party MLA from Charkhari, was caught on camera abusing a Muslim vegetable vendor near his home in Lucknow.
Rajput later justified his action, saying: “The vendor had lied to me about his identity and mentioned a Hindu name. So I asked him to leave my area immediately and never show up again.”
State BJP president Swatantra Dev Singh said: “We have served notices on the politicians making objectionable remarks during the lockdown. We expect them to mind their language.”
He mentioned Tiwari as the recipient of a notice but not Rajput or Kushwaha.
As the Kushwaha video — where he seems to be speaking before a camera — went viral on Wednesday, the MP denied allegations that he had himself circulated it via WhatsApp.
“It’s an old statement given to my supporters in Belthara area of Ballia district. I want the people to help the government identify the hidden cases,” he told reporters.
However, his appeal is directed to the “people of Salempur”, which is not in Ballia. Media reports have quoted some Kushwaha supporters as saying they received the video on WhatsApp on April 24.
In the video, Kushwaha purportedly adds: “Since the corona disease doesn’t see caste and religion and can infect anybody, I appeal to people from every religion, community and caste, rich and poor, to tell me about those hiding their infection so I can inform the administration.”