Chandigarh: Finding himself cornered over his controversial stand on consumption of beef, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Friday first tried to wriggle out of the situation by saying his statement was "distorted" but then finally offered his "regret".
Khattar was quoted by an English daily on Friday as saying that "Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef as the cow is an article of faith here".
"Haryana Chief Minister Mr Manohar Lal has denied having made any such statement and said that his words and sentiments have been distorted," an official statement said.
A political greenhorn and first-time legislator, Khattar completes one year in office as chief minister on October 26.
The statement was made in the context of the lynching of a Muslim man in Dadri district of Uttar Pradesh on September 28 by a mob on suspicion that he ate beef.
But once Khattar's recorded interview (in audio) was released by the daily and played by news channels, making it clear he indeed made the controversial statement, Khattar told the media here: "However, even if you believe that if any of the words were spoken by me, there was no intention (of hurting anyone's sentiments). If anyone's sentiments are hurt by my statements, I am ready to offer my regrets for this."
"We understand and respect the feelings of every religion and community. I did not make any statement which would have hurt anyone's sentiments. However, if anyone or any community has felt hurt, I regret the same," a statement quoting Khattar later said.
Khattar said he had "full devotion in the practice of 'Sarva Dharma Sambhav' and believed in taking along all sections of society".
Khattar, a former RSS pracharak, had said that the "cow, Bhagwad Gita and goddess Saraswati were articles of faith for the Hindu community".
He had maintained that the Indian Constitution, which had no provision to ban cow slaughter or consumption of beef, however, had a provision that no one should do anything that offends the faith of another religion.
Khattar was chosen by the Bharatiya Janata Party to head its first government in Haryana last year, overlooking the claims of more experienced leaders.