MP minister apologises after row over remarks on tribal outfit

Madhya Pradesh Culture Minister Usha Thakur on Monday apologised after a controversy over her “anti-national” remarks against a tribal outfit that formed an alliance with the Congress in the last assembly polls and amid demand for her dismissal from the cabinet.
Thakur’s remarks against the Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti (JAYS) had invited strong condemnation from the opposition Congress which demanded the BJP minister’s dismissal from the cabinet and also raised the issue in the assembly.
Speaking at an event in her constituency Mhow in Indore district on Saturday, she had said, “Despite many patriotic forest dwellers, why deshdrohi (anti-national) organisations like JAYS are thriving in the region? “Taking inspiration from the life of Tantya Bhil (a tribal leader of freedom struggle), we should take pledge that no anti-national organisation will flourish in this area and together we will uproot them.”
JAYS and Congress leaders reacted sharply to Thakur’s remarks, saying her utterances have hurt the sentiments of the tribal community.
The Congress vociferously raised the issue in the assembly which had its day-long session on Monday.
Facing a wave of criticism, the BJP minister clarified that her remarks were aimed at certain people who were trying to “vitiate atmosphere” in the Mhow area.
Thakur told reporters in Indore, “We are engaged in overall development of the tribal community in the Mhow region.
“But I saw that there are some people who are trying to convert them (to other religions) by misleading them and trying to wean them away from the national mainstream.
She said, “These people are also vitiating atmosphere in the Mhow area by demanding a separate religious code for tribals (by separating them from Hindus) in the next Census.
“I said that (controversial statements) for such an organisation. If someone felt hurt because of my statements, I apologise.”
The JAYS, a socio-political organisation, had formed an alliance with the Congress in the 2018 assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh.
JAYS patron Hiralal Alawa was elected to the assembly from Manawar in tribal-dominated Dhar district on a Congress ticket.
Earlier in the day, a group of Congress legislators led by former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath staged a sit-in in the assembly complex in Bhopal demanding dismissal of Thakur from the cabinet.
The opposition MLAs protested near the Mahatma Gandhi statue in the state assembly compound and criticised Thakur for her remarks.
Thakur has called an organisation working for tribals as “anti-national and Naxalite”, the Congress alleged.
“They have this sort of mindset. What is in their hearts and minds slips out of their mouths,” Nath told reporters after the protest.
“We oppose them strongly. I have spoken to chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. We want him to take stern action on this issue.
“The minister should be sacked for her objectionable words,” the Leader of the Opposition added.