NEW DELHI (AP) — Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday rejected demands to fire a government minister whose derogatory comments about non-Hindus have led to a furor that has shut down the Indian Parliament for four days.
Junior minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti told a public rally in New Delhi last weekend that those who do not follow the Hindu god Ram were "bastards." She later apologized in parliament for the comments.
But angry opposition lawmakers demanded that she be removed from the council of ministers and face criminal charges for trying to incite communal hatred. They say her remarks reflect the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's anti-Muslim attitude.
Muslims are the largest religious minority in India, making up about 13 percent of the population. The Muslim community has been particularly wary of Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which won convincingly in May's general elections.
Modi has called the remarks unacceptable, but has refused to fire her, saying she was new and had been elected for the first time.
"She has apologized. I appeal to the house to move on and that we resume work in the interest of the country," Modi said Friday.
But opposition Congress party lawmakers walked out of Parliament and sat in protest outside, tying black cloths across their mouths and holding signs demanding Jyoti's dismissal.
In 2002, Modi was accused of failing to stop anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat state that claimed at least 1,000 lives when he was chief minister of the state. He has rejected the accusations, and India's Supreme Court has said that it found no evidence to prosecute him.
Jyoti, a Hindu preacher who was appointed junior minister for food processing last month, was addressing a rally in New Delhi over the weekend when she said that the people of Delhi have to decide whether they want a government run by "the children of the (Hindu god) Ram or the children of bastards."
Elections for the Delhi state assembly are likely to be held in February and political parties have begun their poll campaigns with public meetings and rallies across the Indian capital.