The last remaining Muslim lawmaker in India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has resigned, leaving the party without a single minority community representative among its 395 MPs.
Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi resigned on Wednesday, a day before his expected term expires. The Indian Parliament has almost 800 legislators in total.
“My work in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) has ended, but my political and social work will never be finished,” Naqvi told local news channel NDTV on Thursday, without giving details on why he will not be re-elected.
Naqvi’s resignation comes at a difficult time for India’s Hindu and Muslim communities. Religious tensions have flared in recent weeks after comments by the now-suspended BJP spokesman Nupur Sharma about the prophet Mohammed, who has been widely condemned as Islamophobic.
Since then, parts of the country have seen violent and deadly clashes between Hindus and Muslims, who make up about 80% and 14% respectively of the country’s 1.3 billion people.
Tensions reached boiling point last week after the brutal killing of a Hindu tailor, allegedly by two Muslim men.
With about 200 million Muslims in India, the country is home to the third largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP came to power in 2014 promising economic reform and development, but critics feared his rise could signal an ideological shift away from the nation’s secular political bases and towards those of a Hindu nationalist state.
The BJP has its roots in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu group that counts Modi among its members, and adheres to Hindutva ideology, which seeks to define Indian culture in accordance with Hindu values.
Since then, the ruling party has been repeatedly accused by rights groups, activists and opposition parties of fomenting anti-Muslim sentiment.
Over the past eight years, several BJP-led states have enacted new laws that critics say are rooted in Hindutva ideology. At the same time, reports of violence and hate speech against Muslims have made headlines across the country.
Some of the most controversial new laws are in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, ruled by Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk and politician. The state has enacted laws to protect cows, an animal sacred to Hindus, from slaughter and has made it increasingly difficult to transport cattle. It has also introduced an anti-conversion law, making it difficult for interfaith couples to marry or convert to Islam or Christianity.
Earlier this year, the BJP-ruled southern state of Karnataka banned Muslim girls from wearing religious headscarves in classrooms, prompting several to challenge the decision in the state’s top court – a battle they ultimately lost.
Last month, India scrambled to stem the diplomatic fallout when at least 15 Muslim-majority countries condemned Sharma’s remarks about the Prophet Mohammed. The incident sparked uproar among India’s main Arab trading partners and calls from across the Gulf region to boycott Indian goods.
In response, the BJP said on its website that the party respects all religions.
“The BJP strongly condemns insulting religious figures of any religion,” it said.