A top retiring Indian official on Thursday embarrassed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government by saying Muslims were feeling insecure under his rule following attacks on them by Hindu hardliners on mere suspicion that they were killing cows considered holy by majority Hindus.
In an interview with state-run Rajya Sabha television channel broadcast Thursday, Hamid Ansari said intolerance was growing in India with Hindu hardliners questioning the nationalism of Muslims who comprise nearly 14 percent of India's 1.3 billion people.
Ansari, a Muslim, ended his second five-year term as India's vice-president, a ceremonial position, on Thursday.
He said he had conveyed his concerns to Modi and some of his ministers.
Ansari was a career diplomat before taking up the constitutional position.
He said he has heard more about the issue in north India.
“There is a feeling of unease, a sense of insecurity is creeping in,” Ansari said.
He also said the breakdown of authority at different levels to the point that the “Indianness” of some citizens was being questioned was a disturbing thought.
Modi, a Hindu, has long had an uneasy relationship with Muslims, in large part because he, as chief minister of Gujarat state, was in command in 2002 when communal riots killed more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.
Modi denied any involvement in the killings by Hindus.
Ansari's views were immediately challenged by Venkaiah Naidu, a top leader of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party and Ansari's successor who will assume office on Friday. He will hold a ceremonial position and conduct the proceedings of the upper house of India's Parliament like the speaker of the powerful lower house.
Naidu said he disagreed with the view that intolerance was growing.
“Compared to the entire world, minorities are more safe and secure in India and they get their due,” Naidu said in an interview with the Press Trust of India news agency.
The prime minister and others in his party have rarely spoken about the killings of Muslims over the past three years, leading some rights activists to accuse Modi and his government of tacitly supporting the attacks.
Modi has said he felt enraged by those masquerading as cow protectors to commit crimes.
There have also been a spate of deadly attacks against atheist thinkers who campaigned against religious superstitions after Modi's government came to power in 2014.