New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi fired back at critics who say intolerance is rising under his government.

The Congress party has no right to talk about intolerance because it presided over anti-Sikh riots in 1984 that left about 3,000 people dead, Modi told a campaign rally in Bihar on Monday. Congress leaders were blamed for fomenting the violence days after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by Sikh bodyguards.

“Till now tears from the eyes of victims of Sikh families have not been dried," Modi said. “You are enacting drama."

India has seen tensions rise in recent months, with some members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party making inflammatory comments after a mob killed a Muslim man over rumours that he slaughtered a cow and ate beef. Hindus make up about 80% of India’s population, with Muslims accounting for 14%.

Concerns are growing that tension between religious groups may hijack Modi’s economic agenda. In a report last week, Moody’s Analytics said Modi must keep his members in check or risk losing domestic and global credibility.

Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan weighed in on Saturday, saying in a speech that tolerance is important for faster growth. Finance minister Arun Jaitley responded the next day, saying in a Facebook post that India “remains a highly tolerant and liberal society," and the mob murder was a “stray incident."

Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law, plans to lead supporters to petition President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday to take action against rising intolerance. Dozens of writers, scientists and artists recently returned national awards to protest a climate of intolerance epitomized by the killing of scholars who had been criticized by Hindu groups.

Election results in Bihar will be tallied on 8 November. A victory could help Modi further his goal of controlling India’s Upper House of Parliament and passing stalled economic proposals. Bloomberg

Close