India parliamentarian stokes sectarian fears with attack on non-Hindus

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought on Thursday to draw a line under a row sparked by a ministerial colleague's derogatory comments about non-Hindus, urging angry parliament deputies to accept her apology and move on.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.REUTERS/David Gray

The opposition, led by the Congress, has demanded the dismissal of Niranjan Jyoti, the junior minister for food processing industries, for telling voters this week that they must "decide whether you want a government of those born of (Hindu god) Ram, or those born illegitimately".

The saffron-clad minister apologised a day later after her remarks drew outrage and calls that she be prosecuted for violating the secular spirit of India's constitution.

Critics say that Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has a deep-seated bias against non-Hindus and that it is pursuing a Hindu-dominant agenda.

Modi urged the upper house of parliament to accept Jyoti's apology amid a third straight day of protests.

"I request the house that now that the minister has given an apology, and there is a message in it for all of us - let us get on with our work in the interest of the country."

The BJP denies any bias but says it is opposed to appeasing any community. Opposition deputies were not satisfied with Modi's remarks and forced an adjournment of the upper house.