The government cannot be held responsible for the murder of the two Dalit children in Haryana, Union Minister General VK Singh said today. And in an afterthought that landed him in controversy, added, "If someone throws stones at a dog, the government is not responsible".
Asked if the government has failed in view of the Monday's killings on the sidelines of an event in Ghaziabad, General Singh said, "Don't connect the government with it. It was a feud between two families, the matter is under inquiry."
The administration failed there, the minister said, then added the controversial comment. Haryana is ruled by the BJP, General Singh's party.
The children - two-and-a-half year old Vaibhav and 11-month-old Divya - had died after their house was set on fire, allegedly by members of an upper caste community at a village in Haryana near Delhi, on Monday. Their father - who sustained burn injuries to save them - said petrol was poured through the window and the house was set on fire.
General Singh's comments drew sharp criticism from the opposition, including the Congress, which demanded his immediate sacking.
"It is condemnable, it is shocking, it is inhumane to say the least," said Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala. "It reflects the mindset of the Modi government which insults Dalits, which insults the minorities and looks down upon the people who are poor and downtrodden."
General Singh's ally and cabinet colleague Ram Vilas Paswan too, spoke up, asking him to refrain from making such statements.
Later, the minister tweeted:
My statement wasn't intended 2draw an analogy. My men & I put our lives on the line 4the nation irrespective of caste,creed & religion.(1/n)- Vijay Kumar Singh (@Gen_VKSingh) October 22, 2015
While Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar put off his visit to Sonped yesterday in view of the escalating protests in the area, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi met the family and launched a scathing attack.
"This is an attitude shared by Prime Minister, the Chief Minister, the BJP and the RSS -- If somebody is weak, they can be crushed," he said.
Mr Khattar visited the area today -- three days after the event. The state has asked for an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Seven people have been arrested so far.
The children were cremated on Wednesday evening, after daylong protests by the locals and the blockade of a national highway.