Shiv Sena MP Rajan Vichare insisted on Thursday he "did not know" that the man whom he force-fed a chapatti at Maharashtra Sadan, New Delhi, recently was a Muslim.
"I did not know the man's caste, creed or religion. I came to know of it only when TV channels disclosed the his name was Arshad Zubair and that he was a Muslim," he told dna over the phone from Delhi. "And the moment I came to know he was Muslim fasting for Ramzan I immediately apologised. Vested interests are trying to give a communal angle to my protest. I, along with others, have been protesting for the past two months about the shoddy quality of food being served at Maharashtra Sadan; but nobody bothered to look into it."
Vichare, who is an MP from Thane, said: "I respect all religions. In fact, I visit the Ajmer dargah and I have several Muslim friends who invite me for iftar."
He denied that he intentionally wanted to hurt the religious sentiments of Arshad. "He was not wearing his uniform and his name was not displayed. There was no way of knowing his name or religion. In any case, the issue was bad food and service and not anyone's religion," he said.
Vichare said for the past 35 years he has been in public life as a corporator, MLA and now MP. "I have never ever hurt anyone's religious sentiments."
CM Prithviraj Chavan and his cabinet colleagues, including RR Patil and Anil Deshmukh, was in Delhi on March 14 to discuss the drought situation in Maharashtra with the PM. "CM and his team, who stayed at Maharashtra Sadan, ordered food, including fish. Since fish wasn't available, they had to get it from outside. And since it came in late, superintendent Arun Kalgaonkar was suspended," Vichare said. "On another occassion, a Congress leader who was in town to meet ex-president Pratibha Patil had to leave Maharashtra Sadan without having tea. Governor K Sankaranarayanan came to Maharashtra Sadan recently and wanted his dinner to be served at 7.30pm, but it was not done. Hence, he had to order food from outside. If this is the treatment meted out to VVIPs what happens to us, ordinary MPs? For two months we have been complaining consistently to the authorities, but no action has been taken. Ultimately, we had no choice but to protest."
"The thali costs Rs150 and we pay for it. We did not ask for free food, but only decent food. What is wrong with that?"