Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar called a press conference to say that The Indian Express had quoted him out of context.
“I was misquoted” is a politician’s age-old trick that has never really worked. Which is probably why Indians politicians continue trying to pull it off, much like reflex action. This time, it is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s most well-known non-fringe perpetual foot-in-the-mouth: Haryana Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar.
Khattar, in his interview with The Indian Express, published today, October 16, said, “Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef.”
Khattar, steeped in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is a classic example of you-can-take-a-man-out-of –a-shakha-but-you-can’t-take-the–shakha –out-of-a-man. Which means one would rather down chaar-bottlevodka instead of admonishing him. Besides, he has got enough stick already.
What is remarkable, though, and does call for a comment is the way Khattar handled the backlash, or tried to do so at least. In a press conference, called apparently to quell the storm, he said that his words were selectively quoted and taken out of context.
An NDTV report even quotes him saying that he never said Muslims should go to Pakistan. It is a curious explanation on Khattar’s part – almost a Freudian slip of sorts – since The Indian Express story, which landed him in the dock, never even mentions Pakistan.
Of course, Khattar was speaking through his hat about his comments being distorted by The India Express, as it was proved, when the paper released the audio recording of the conversation. If anything, the audiotape makes Khattar look even worse. His views on the idea of personal liberty only reiterates what everyone always knew: the Constitution is not quite compulsory reading in an RSS shakha.
This is, of course, not the first time that a BJP politician has embarrassed himself by refusing to own up a statement s(he) has made and instead blaming the media for distorting it. In August last year, Arun Jaitley made a stinker of a comment about the December 16 Delhi gang-rape of 2012. Instead of apologising, he got the Press Information Bureau to cover-up for him by editing out the controversial portion in the official transcript of the speech. Most of the right-wing on Twitter was ecstatic; their claim about the media unfairly targeting BJP’s leaders had finally been vindicated. But the joy turned out to be short-lived and Jaitley, as well as his followers, soon had egg on their face: India Today TV released a video recording of Jaitley’s speech; it turned out he had indeed made those comments.
On another occasion, in February 2015, Rajyavardhan Rathore, the Information and Broadcasting Minister of State, while addressing women journalists at the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) in Delhi had some advicefor female journalists: stick to the desk, being on the field is a man’s job. But Rathore, staying true to the legacy of blaming the media, denied that he had made such a statement and blamed the media for misconstruing what he said. A recording accessed by Newslaundry, though, established that he had said that women should do more analysis “from whichever location you are in with the technology that you have”.
The poster-boy of right-wing secularism on Twitter, columnist Tufail Ahmed, too, tried defending Khattar by blaming the media. One hopes, for BJP’s sake, he is not defending the party position in news studios tonight.
NitiCentral, a website that one would assume had served it purpose and would have wound up after May 2014, also came to Khattar’s defence. “Did Indian Express put words into Khattar’s mouth – look at HT interview,” it asked.
The Hindustan Times interview of Khattar is indeed interesting – and, as helpfully pointed out by NitiCentral, should definitely be read. The interview, which also appeared today, has not one question on the Dadri lynching. This is strange considering Haryana is one of the only three states – the other two being Maharashtra and Gujarat – where there is a complete ban on bovine slaughter. Well, the idea perhaps was to not put words into Khattar’s mouth, which is a nice way of saying HT didn’t want to ask him any tough questions.
As for the BJP, it’s time its leaders got over the inane “I was misquoted” defence. It’s just not well-done.
This article was republished from Newslaundry.com.