Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla has stoked a controversy by reportedly calling all Indians "Hindus."
However, she sought to clarify her comments today, saying she had called all Indians Hindi, the Arabic term for people living in India and what she said was "not in relation to the religion but in relation to identity as nationality". She did not call them Hindus, she said.
Heptulla hinted at the need of having uniformity of identity for all Indians as she told PTI that she did not think "there is any country with three names in three different languages."
In Arabic, Indians are called Hindi and Hindustani and Indian in Persian and English respectively, she said.
"We are Hindi, we are Hindustani by identification as nationality. Hindi Indians and Hindustani are all one and the same thing," she said. When asked for her views on RSS head Mohan Bhagwat's comments that Indians should be called Hindus, she declined to make any comment.
"I have no comment on that," she said. She quoted Iqbal's famous lines "Hindi hain hum watan hai Hindostan hamara (We are Hindi and our country is Hindostan)" to make her point.
Heptulla was quoted as saying in a media report that "there is nothing wrong in calling all Indians Hindu.
Congress reacted sharply to her reported comments with party leader Manish Tewari saying she should read the Constitution.
"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," Tewari said. NCP leader Tariq Anwar criticised Heptulla, terming the reported remarks as "unfortunate."
"If she has given that statement, it is very unfortunate. I think she has given the statement to ensure her continuance as a minister. She says she is from Maulana Azad's family. It appears that to remain in power she can go to any extent," Anwar said, taking a dig at her.
BJP, however, said the controversy should be over after she has issued a clarification. BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the chapter should be closed after her clarification.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said, "I believe what Najmaji meant was cultural unity of India and these issues should not be seen with a religious angle. Unity in diversity is in the ethos of the country and we should all believe in that."
Cabinet minister and another BJP leader Narendra Singh Tomar said the Supreme Court had described Hinduism as a way of life and what Heptulla has said is on almost similar lines.
Meanwhile, Hindustan Times, which had interviewed Heptulla, reproduced three audio clips of her remarks on its website.
In the first audio clip, Heptulla described India’s historical identity and said, "The word Hindu actually originally referred to a national identity of those who live in this land.”
In the second clip, she gave an Arab-world perspective of India. "I look at things very rationally. I am a very rational person."
In the third clip, the minister said, "Whether you call me a Hindu or a Hindi...If I go to Arabia, Arabs call me Hindi...Do I take offence?".
The website said that in another instance she explained: "Some people think we should call ourselves Hindu, it doesn’t matter to me… it doesn’t affect my faith."