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Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking at an election rally in Nawada, Bihar, on Thursday, broke his eight-day silence on the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh.

Akhlaq was beaten to death by a mob which suspected him of having stored and consumed beef. Several members of the BJP are among the suspects in the case.

Mr. Modi, who had come under criticism for failing to speak up on the issue or restrain his party leaders from making incendiary statements, referred toPresident Pranab Mukherjee’s statement just a day before, to drive home his point.

“I have said it earlier too. Hindus should decide whether to fight Muslims or poverty. Muslims have to decide whether to fight Hindus or poverty. Both need to fight poverty together. The country has to stay united, only communal harmony and brotherhood will take the nation forward. People should ignore controversial statements made by politicians, as they are doing so for political gains.”

However Mr. Modi’s remarks were met with criticism. Former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted why there was no outright condemnation of the Dadri lynching.

Read: Bihar polls: the shifting goalposts

Modi targets Lalu Prasad

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing an election rally in Nawada, Bihar on Thursday, emphasised that only communal harmony and brotherhood could take the country forward.

Citing President Pranab Mukherjee’s speech a day before, Mr. Modi said: “Mr. Mukherjee’s message is the best guidance we can get as a nation. We should follow the path shown by the President,” he said.

Mr. Mukherjee, speaking at a book release function, had said, “We can’t allow the core values of our civilisation to be wasted. The core values are that over the years, civilisation celebrated diversity, promoted and advocated tolerance, enjoyed plurality.” Reactions to Mr. Modi’s comments were, however, critical as being too little, too late. “It took a few days, but our Honourable Prime Minister finally broke his silence. We didn’t get an outright condemnation, but at least something is better than nothing,” said former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, on Twitter.

Former Union Minister R.P.N. Singh said: “The Prime Minister should come forward and speak on it, instead of just condemning it and giving it new twists.”

At the rallies in Munger and Begusarai earlier, Mr. Modi launched a frontal attack on Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad, charging him with betraying the Yadavs, with his claim that some Hindus did consume beef.

He told the crowds that Mr. Prasad should not be absolved of his “beef remark” even though he had claimed that it was the “devil” that had made him say it.

“I want to know how the shaitan got his address. He recognises that it was the shaitan, just as people recognise their relatives,” Mr. Modi said.

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