New Delhi, India – Police in India have warned a Hindu businessman, who refused to accept his food delivery from a Muslim driver, of punishment if he repeats his offence within six months.
“We have sent a notice to Amit Shukla for his tweets. In the next six months, if he again posts such tweets or commits an act which is against the basic tenets of the constitution, then it will be considered a breach of trust and he will be sent to jail,” Amit Singh, a senior police officer in central India’s Madhya Pradesh state, told Al Jazeera on Friday.
The controversy began earlier this week when Shukla, 40, posted on his Twitter account that he cancelled his order from food delivery app, Zomato, since they had assigned a “non-Hindu” driver.
“Just cancelled an order on Zomato,” he tweeted. “They allocated a non-Hindu rider for my food. They said they can’t change rider and can’t refund on cancellation.”
The businessman from Jabalpur city in Madhya Pradesh has deleted his Twitter account following the controversy.
Zomato’s response to Shukla’s post has been retweeted nearly 30,000 times and liked by more than 90,000 Twitter users. “Food doesn’t have a religion. It is a religion,” the company said.
Food doesn’t have a religion. It is a religion. https://t.co/H8P5FlAw6y
— zomato India (@ZomatoIN) July 31, 2019
Zomato’s founder Deepinder Goyal echoed his company’s stand with a firm message. “We are proud of the idea of India – and the diversity of our esteemed customers and partners. We aren’t sorry to lose any business that comes in the way of our values.”
Rival food delivery app, Uber Eats, also spoke out in support. “We stand by you,” the US-based company said.
As the controversy intensified with many on Twitter calling on the authorities to act, police in Madhya Pradesh slapped Shukla with a Rs 10,000 ($144) “good behaviour” bond.
India is a secular state, whose constitution allows officials to act against individuals if they threaten public peace or communal amity.
However, since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, the right-wing party has been accused of pushing a hardline Hindu agenda and patronising far-right groups that target Muslims and other minorities.
The Zomato driver, identified only as Faiyaz, told an Indian news agency the incident had “hurt” him.
Politicians opposed to the BJP backed Zomato. “I have not ordered food so far, but I think I will do so now from Zomato,” India’s former finance minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram tweeted.
“Respect. I love your app. Thank you for giving me a reason to admire the company behind it,” former Jammu and Kashmir state’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah wrote.
Police in Madhya Pradesh said Shukla’s tweet could have disturbed peace in Jabalpur, which they said is a “communally sensitive city”.
“It [Jabalpur] has a history of communal riots and that is why we didn’t take anything lightly. We will investigate all the aspects of the case, most importantly, the motive behind this person’s tweets,” said Singh.
However, the action against Shukla angered some Twitter users, who said they had uninstalled both Zomato and Uber Eats apps over what they called unfair discrimination against Hindus. Hashtags #BoycottZomato and #BoycottUberEats trended in India on Thursday.
Shukla told Al Jazeera he remains unfazed by the controversy, which he said had been “blown out of proportion”. He also denied receiving any notice from the police.
“The issue has been blown out of proportion by Zomato itself. It was a dispute between a consumer and the company,” he said.
“This is our holy month in which we fast and do other religious activities. That is why I declined the order,” he said. “In the past, I have accepted Zomato orders from both Hindus and Muslims.”
Activists said intolerance towards minorities has been “emboldened” in recent years.
“This is the result of hatred that has been spread against the minorities, particularly the Muslims. Hate crimes and religious discrimination are on the rise and government is not doing anything to stop them,” said Nadeem Khan, an activist with civil society group, “United Against Hate”.
Delhi-based activist Shabnam Hashmi praised Zomato for “not cowing down to a man’s bullying”.