Terror accused and BJP candidate from Bhopal Pragya Singh Thakur kicked off a political storm on Thursday, calling Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse a ‘patriot.’
The Opposition parties lambasted her, while the BJP was quick to distance itself from her remarks and asked her to issue a public apology.
Complying with the party directive, Ms. Thakur later apologised and withdrew her comments.
“ Nathuram Godse deshbakht the, hai, aur rahenge. Unko antakwadi kehne wale log swayam ke girebaan main jhank kar dekhe. Abke chunav main unhe jawab de diya jayega [Nathuram Godse was a patriot and will remain so. People calling him a terrorist should introspect. They will be given a befitting reply in these elections],” Ms. Thakur had said.
She made the comments when a reporter asked for her reaction to Makkal Needhi Maiyam founder Kamal Haasan’s speech at a recent election rally in Tamil Nadu , where he said the first terrorist in free India was a Hindu, and his name was Godse.
We disagree: BJP
Rajya Sabha member and party spokesperson G.V.L. Narasimha Rao said, “The party [the BJP] completely disagrees with the statement and we strongly condemn it. The party will ask Pragya why she made such a statement. She should tender a public apology.”
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, Ms. Thakur’s opponent, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah should clarify their stand. “Godse was a murderer, and praising him as a patriot is being an anti-national,” Mr. Singh said.
The Election Commission has sought a report by Friday from the Madhya Pradesh Chief Electoral Officer on Ms. Thakur statement.
Ms. Thakur's statement triggered a sharp reaction from the Opposition parties. The BJP candidate from Bhopal apologised and withdrew her comments after the party distanced itself, condemning her remarks.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi said in a tweet that the BJP could not shrug off its responsibility by merely dissociating itself from Ms. Thakur’s comment.
“Distancing yourself from your candidate is not enough. Nationalistic luminaries of the BJP, you must have the guts to spell out your stand,” she said.
The party also wanted Prime Minister Modi to apologise on behalf of Ms. Thakur. “If Modi ji has some wisdom then he should punish Pragya Thakur and apologise to the country,” Congress communication chief Randeep Surjewala told reporters.
The Congress leader said the BJP wants to attack Gandhian philosophy and values through leaders like Ms. Thakur. “This is a conspiracy to insult Gandhian principles. This is an unforgivable crime which the country will not forgive,” he said.
Calling Ms. Thakur a favourite of Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah, the Congress spokesperson claimed that she insulted the nation by referring to Mahatma Gandhi’s killer as a ‘true partiot.’
“It is clear the BJP people are the descendants of Godse. BJP people say Godse was a patriot and martyr Hemant Karkare was a traitor. Culture of violence and insulting martyrs is the DNA of the BJP,” he alleged.
The Left parties said facts should always be kept in mind when talking of Godse. “The truth about where RSS-BJP stands on terror gets clearer all the time. A senior Minister in Modi’s Cabinet said Godse was not a terrorist, now terror accused Pragya calls the murderer of Gandhi ji a ‘deshbhakt’. The BJP remains inspired by the killers of the Mahatma,” CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury told The Hindu .
The Communist Party of India leader D. Raja said the BJP’s distancing itself from her comments shows the party’s duplicity. He said the party allows its leaders to make all sorts of divisive statements and then conveniently distances itself from them. “It’s a fact that Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated and the incident was a well-planned one to spread hatred, create fear and to send out a message. This assassination was carried out by Nathuram Godse. If the BJP thinks Godse was a patriot then what was Mahatma Gandhi,” he said.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah also spoke on similar lines without mentioning Ms. Thakur. In a tweet he said, “If the killer of the father of the nation is a patriot does that make Mahatma Gandhi anti-national?”