Indian media: Modi fails to break 'hate speech' logjam

BJP politician Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti is sworn in as food processing minister on 9 November Image copyright EPA
Image caption Ms Jyoti was sworn in as a member of the BJP-led government last month

The political controversy over a minister's perceived insult to non-Hindus shows little sign of dying down, Indian media say, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi's appeal for forgiveness.

In his first public intervention on the issue, Mr Modi told MPs on Thursday that he disapproved of Niranjan Jyoti's comments that voters had to choose between "a government of followers of Rama and a government of bastards".

But opposition parties - dissatisfied with his refusal to sack her - have vowed to continue their blockade of the government's legislative agenda, and vowed to hold a joint protest outside parliament on Friday, the Indian Express reports.

Opposition MPs also accused the government of using its "brute majority" to silence them on the issue, with some even claiming that their microphones had been switched off, according to the Deccan Chronicle.

The opposition says it may end the parliamentary deadlock if the government backs a joint parliamentary resolution strongly condemning Ms Jyoti's language.

The Times of India thinks the opposition - united for the first time by the row - has sensed it can could "expose a chink or two in Modi's seemingly impenetrable armour".

For some, the row has revived concerns about latent sectarianism and authoritarianism within Mr Modi's BJP, which has sought to project a moderate image and appeal to India's non-Hindu minorities.

On Thursday, the chief minister of mainly Muslim Indian-controlled Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, was quoted saying by The Pioneer that the BJP's "mask has fallen off".

Commenting in the Times of India, Sidharth Bhatia argues that Ms Jyoti's "revolting" remarks are only the latest of "an almost continuous stream of hateful bile" from the BJP.

"Such hate speech could end up damaging social harmony and build up an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion among communities," he writes.

In Firstpost, Chandrakant Naidu commends Mr Modi for "waking up" to the need to distance himself from "foul-mouthed and openly communal colleagues" but wonders whether he can control "hard core right wingers" in the wider Hindu nationalist community.

"They have gone berserk, insulting the liberal tradition of the country," he says, adding that Mr Modi's "real challenge lies here".

Class affair

Elsewhere in political news, the BJP and Congress found rare unity in criticising anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal after it emerged that he flew business class.

Mr Kejriwal, whose Aam Admi ("Common man") Party has shaken up Indian politics since launching it on a wave of anger at endemic corruption in India's political class in 2012, is known for his simple lifestyle.

After a photograph of Mr Kejriwal on his flight prompted a debate on Twitter, BJP spokesman Harish Khurana said the incident showed "the double standards of the AAP", the Times of India reports.

"We have been told that Kejriwal refused to fly economy", AAP has been claiming that it promotes austerity, then Kejriwal should not be travelling business."

A Congress MP chimed in, telling the New Indian Express that the AAP "does not do what it says and does what it does not say".

But the AAP has defended its leader, saying his ticket had been paid for by the event organisers. "This is an attempt of BJP and Congress to divert attention from the fundamental issues because they do not want to discuss them," party official Ashutosh was quoted saying.

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