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PM Modi breaks silence over India beef killing

More than two weeks after the lynching of a Muslim man for allegedly eating beef sparked global outrage, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally broken his silence.

Speaking to Indian newspaper Anandabazar Patrika, Modi said he and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) do not condone such incidents and added the BJP-led government at the center did not have anything to do with it.

Mohammad Akhlaq, 52, was accused of killing a cow and eating it after a rumor was circulated using the public announcement system at a local temple.

A mob dragged Akhlaq and his family out of their home in the town of Dadri near capital New Delhi and beat him to death and badly injured his son Danish. Subsequent media reports revealed the meat was actually mutton, not beef.

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Akhlaq's murder was one in a series of incidents that have sparked questions about India's culture of tolerance. Two months earlier, progressive Indian scholar M. M. Kalburgi was shot dead in Dharwad district of Karnataka by an unidentified gunman.

More recently, a concert in Mumbai by veteran Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali was cancelled after organizers received threats from the Shiv Sena, a far right regional party in Maharashtra, according to local media reports.

Former BJP leader Sudheendra Kulkarni was smeared with black paint, again by Shiv Sena activists, for hosting the former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, who was in town to launch his memoir.

Addressing his critics, Modi told the newspaper that his opponents were using incidents such as Dadri to engage in political polarization. He accused them of indulging in what he called 'vote bank politics', that is pandering to voters from a certain religious background.

Recent incidents have distracted from good economic performance under Modi's leadership. The country is now the fastest growing major economy in the world and foreign investment has held up well.

Beef consumption and cow slaughter drew attention earlier this year when the state of Maharashtra introduced laws that ban the sale and possession of beef. While there are no national laws in place that prevent consumption of beef, government records show cow slaughter is currently illegal in 22 states, with some states implementing caveats on bulls, bullocks, water buffaloes, and some fit-for-slaughter cows.

India is still the largest exporter of beef, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). But majority of that meat comes from water buffaloes, which are classified as beef by the USDA.

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The Modi government's failure to come out and immediately condemn Akhlaq's killing has drawn widespread criticism from his opponents, who also accused Modi of not doing enough to protect minority voices in India's diverse society.

Local media reported some of the suspects in the mob had affiliations with the BJP. Nearly 14% of India's population is Muslim, according to census data.

Modi's silence on the subject until now jarred with his active presence on social media. Only U.S. President Barack Obama among major leaders has more followers on Twitter.

BJP's president, Amit Shah, was quoted in the same report as saying that his party does not play politics with religion nor does it bring up communalism into the political discourse. He accused opposing political parties of being more concerned with painting his party as being communal instead of campaigning for economic development in the country.