BJP chief Amit Shah's remark that Mahatma Gandhi was a "bahut chatur baniya" sparked a huge row with the Congress and other opposition parties demanding an apology from him for insulting the Father of the Nation. Mahatma's grandsons Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Rajmohan Gandhi also pitched in with their opinion deriding Shah for “tasteless” remark .
Shah made the reference to the mercantile caste to which Gandhi was born while telling a select audience of "prominent citizens" in Raipur on Friday how the "bahut chatur baniya" (very shrewd baniya) had rightly advised dissolution of the Congress after Independence.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi said the Mahatma would have chuckled at the "chatur baniya" description for its "utter tastelessness" and the hidden mischief in it.
"Gandhi laughed at cartoons of himself. He would have laughed at this one also but for its utter tastelessness and the hidden mischief in it," Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former Governor of the West Bengal, told PTI.
His brother Rajmohan Gandhi said, "The man who overcame the British lion and snakes of communal poison in India was more than a 'chatur baniya'."
Historian Ramachandra Guha, the author of 'India After Gandhi', strongly reacted to the comment made by Shah and said the remark was "crude" and "unworthy" of the president of BJP, the country's ruling party.
"The comment was crude and ill-informed, unworthy of the president of India's ruling party," Guha told PTI.
Leading the opposition charge, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala demanded an apology from Shah, BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Calling Shah a "trader of power", Surjewala said his remarks were "an insult to freedom fighters, their sacrifices and also to Gandhi."
"Rather than fighting casteism, they (BJP) identified even the Father of the Nation with his caste. This shows the character and ideology of the ruling party and its president. Where will these people take the country?" Surjewala asked.
"We demand that Amit Shah, BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologise to the country, the families of freedom fighters and every citizen for insulting the freedom movement... and the father of the nation," Surjewala told reporters in Delhi.
In a hard-hitting response, Surjewala alleged that "Amit Shah, who himself is a trader of power, is today saying that the freedom movement was a business model. But in reality, before independence, Britishers used RSS and Hindu Mahasabha as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for partition of the country."
He also said, "similarly, today BJP is acting as a SPV for few corporates for taking care of their business interests."
According to the Congress leader, Shah's remarks were "an insult to freedom fighters, their sacrifices and also to Gandhi".
While West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee termed the comments "uncalled for and unethical", CPI general secretary S Sudhakar Reddy demanded that Shah tender an apology for making the "derogatory" remarks.
Former CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat also hit out at Shah, saying his remark reveals "the contempt the BJP- RSS has for Gandhiji." Shah only revealed the BJP's actual opinion about Gandhi, Karat said.
CPI national secretary D Raja said Shah, being president of the ruling party, should be aware of the language to be used while describing a leader of Gandhi's stature.
"We have no problem when he criticises Congress or other opposition parties (during political discourse). But dragging Mahatma Gandhi's name, using such a language is denigrating Gandhi," Raja said.
"Such a comment on the father of the nation is highly condemnable. Shah has crossed limits of politics," said Chattisgarh state Congress general secretary Shailesh Nitin Trivedi.
Facing flak, Shah on Saturday said the import of his comments was heard by the people who were present at yesterday's gathering.
"Maine jis reference me kaha hai waha sab logo ne suna, Surjewala ji ko abhi Gandhiji ke bahut sare siddhanto ka jawab dena hai. (Those present during the programme heard my comments and the reference in which they were made. AICC spokesperson Randeep Surjewala is yet to answer about many principles of Gandhi ji)," Shah told a press conference in Raipur when asked about AICC spokesperson Randeep Surjewala's demand for his apology over the remark.
At Friday's event, Shah had said, "the Congress party... was constituted as a club by a British man. It was later converted into an organisation engaged in freedom struggle."
It had in its fold both right and left-leaning people like Maulana Azad, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and many others, he said.
"People of various ideologies and thinking associated themselves with Congress to gain independence. Congress didn't have any ideology or set of principles and it was only used as a special purpose vehicle to secure freedom," Shah said.
He further said, "Aur isi liye Mahatma Gandhi ne durandesi ke saath, bahut chatur baniya tha woh, usko maloom tha aage kya hone waala hai, usne azadi ke baad turant kaha tha, Congress ko bikher dena chahiye. (This is why Mahatma Gandhi with foresight, he was a very clever baniya, he knew what was going to happen, he said immediately after independence that the Congress should be dissolved)."
Mahatma Gandhi couldn't do that, but now some people are completing the task of dissolution of Congress, the BJP chief added, in an apparent jibe at the present Congress leadership.