Pramod Muthalik, the chief of Hindutva outfit Sri Ram Sene, has denied reports that he compared murdered journalist Gauri Lankesh to a dog at an event in Bengaluru on Sunday.

“Why should Narendra Modi react if a dog dies in Karnataka,” he had asked those who criticised the prime minister’s “silence” over the murder in September 2017. His remarks were met with cheers of “Jai Shri Ram”.

Later, Muthalik clarified that he did not mean to compare Lankesh to a dog, but only meant to ask whether Modi should comment on every death in the state, Times Now reported.

Muthalik was speaking at an event organised by the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti in Bengaluru on Sunday. “Two murders took place in Karnataka and two in Maharashtra during Congress rule,” Muthalik said, apparently referring to the deaths of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Lankesh. “No one questioned the Congress government’s failure.”

Muthalik added: “Instead, they are asking why is Prime Minister Modi silent and not speaking on Gauri Lankesh’s death. Why should Narendra Modi react if a dog dies in Karnataka?”

Muthalik added that his organisation had ideological differences with Lankesh but would never stoop to the level of murdering someone. His comment comes in the wake of a photograph that shows him in the company of a suspect in Lankesh’s murder surfacing on social media. Muthalik has claimed that he does not know the man.

Lankesh was shot dead outside her house in Bengaluru’s RR Nagar locality on September 5. Reports said the investigation team had earlier stated that Lankesh was killed for her “anti-Hindu” views. They also said there are links between her murder and those of Kannada writer MM Kalburgi, and rationalists Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar.