NEW DELHI- Indian election frontrunner Narendra Modi on Tuesday condemned virulent anti-Muslim remarks by a one-time associate as he sought to keep attention on his core message of development and corruption-free administration.
Praveen Togadia, head of the right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), faces a police investigation after a video appeared to show him urging Hindus to evict Muslims from their neighborhoods in western Gujarat state.
Speaking in Gujarat on Saturday, Togadia is heard saying: “We (Hindus) are in a majority — we should have the courage to intimidate them by taking the law in our own hands.”
A lawyer for Togadia said the clip was “false, malafide and mischievous”.
Modi, a hardliner from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said he “disapproved” of the statement from Togadia, an associate when both men were in grassroots Hindu groups in the 1980s.
“Petty statements by those claiming to be BJP’s well-wishers are deviating the campaign from the issues of development and good governance,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I disapprove (of) any such irresponsible statement and appeal to those making them to kindly refrain from doing so,” he added.
Religious tensions, an undercurrent for much of India’s election campaign due to Modi’s polarizing past, have burst into the open in recent weeks following reported comments from hardliners.