New Delhi: Union minister Najma Heptulla today said she had said "Hindi", not "Hindu", in an interview in which she appeared to endorse the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's view that "all Indians are Hindus".
This morning, a newspaper quoted the Minorities Affairs Minister has saying, "If some people called Muslims Hindi or Hindu they should not be so sensitive because it doesn't affect their faith." She also said, "It is not about right or wrong. It is about history."
Hours later, came her clarification. She told NDTV that she had been misquoted and "the person who did the interview either did not understand what I was saying or forgot what was said."
She sought to explain, "I didn't say Hindu, I used the word Hindi. Hindi is an Arabic word. When people go from India to Gulf or Arab countries, they're known as Hindi. If they go to Iran, they are known as Hindustani. This is a national identity."
The reporter has said he stands by the interview, which has been uploaded on their website.
Ms Heptulla, 74, is the only Muslim minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet.
Her comments in the interview r were strongly criticized days after a controversy over RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat's comment that "India is a Hindu nation". The RSS is the ideological mentor of the ruling BJP.
"We respect Najmaji a lot but it would be better if she reads the Constitution. The Constitution mentions 'Bharat' and going by that every citizen of the country is a 'Bharatiya', and not Hindu," said Congress leader Manish Tewari.
Accused by critics of trying to curry favour with the BJP leadership, Ms Heptulla said, "I am not so immature that to save my kursi (chair) I would say such things."