New Delhi: A minister in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government participating in an event of alleged mass conversion to Buddhism triggered a political row Friday, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accusing its rival of hurting religious sentiments of the Hindus.
The AAP has so far maintained a studied silence in the row surrounding social welfare minister Rajendra Pal Gautam. ThePrint reached out to AAP spokespersons, but they did not issue an official response.
The controversy started after a video clip and several photographs surfaced on social media in which Gautam was purportedly seen addressing a crowd from a stage at the event, which, according to sources in the state revenue department, was organised Wednesday at central Delhi’s Karol Bagh area.
The event also coincided with Dussehra.
A district administration officer told ThePrint that the event was attended by hundreds of men and women, mostly from the Dalit community, from Delhi-National Capital Region and neighbouring cities. An NGO named Mission Jai Bheem, founded by Gautam, was one of the main organisers of the event, said the officer.
Gautam himself tweeted several photos and videos of the event on the day it was held.
BJP national spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia accused the AAP of hurting the sentiments of Hindus and spreading hate. “His [Gautam’s] comments highlight the hate which the AAP has towards Hindus,” he said in a press conference.
In the same presser, Delhi BJP president Adesh Gupta claimed Wednesday’s event was not an isolated incident. “…it is in the character of the AAP to insult and disrespect Hindu gods and goddesses. We demand that Kejriwal should immediately expel Gautam from his cabinet,” Gupta said.
BJP MP Manoj Tiwari, who was also present at the press conference, also demanded Gautam’s sacking, claiming his action could lead to animosity between Hindu and Buddhist communities.
ThePrint reached out to Gautam for comments on the matter through phone calls and messages on Friday but he did not respond.
However, earlier in the day, he told a news agency that he had not done anything unconstitutional. “BJP is anti-national. I’ve faith in Buddhism. Why does anyone have trouble with it? Let them complain. The Constitution gives us the freedom to follow any religion. BJP is afraid of AAP. They can only lodge fake cases against us,” the minister told ANI.
“The party at this stage has decided to refrain from commenting on the matter because saying anything on it can backfire in terms of adverse impact on Hindu voters in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh,” a senior AAP functionary told ThePrint.
The AAP is preparing to contest elections in both these states later this year.
Another AAP insider said that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal spoke with Gautam and expressed displeasure over the episode.
(Edited by Tony Rai)