CHHATTISGARH: Describing the Congress as a party that was never set up on the basis of any ideology, BJP president Amit Shah said the party was launched as a special purpose vehicle to secure Independence. This is the reason, he went on, that Mahatma Gandhi advocated the party's dissolution right after Independence. "Bahut chatur baniya tha woh(He was a clever baniya)," Mr Shah said, a description that prompted the Congress to demand an apology.
Mr Shah said Mahatma Gandhi could foretell how things would pan out if the Congress - "a party started by a Briton as an association" - continued to exist after Independence and advocated its dissolution. "Mahatma Gandhi didn't do that (disband the Congress), but now some people are finishing the task of dismantling Congress party," the BJP president said.
Mr Shah is in Chhattisgarh as part of his nationwide tour to prepare the party for the next round of elections in late 2018, and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. On Friday, the BJP president who often talks about rooting out Congress from India was addressing a group of 'eminent' persons in the state capital Raipur.
The Congress demanded an apology from Mr Shah for the disparaging way in which he had spoken of Mahatma Gandhi.
"The BJP president has insulted Mahatma Gandhi, the Independence movement and those who bravely fought for the independence by calling them businessman in context with the freedom struggle," Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala said.
"The truth is that before the Independence, the British used (Hindu) Mahasabha and Sangh as special purpose vehicle for the partition of India and now after Independence, the BJP men are following the same path and have become a special purpose vehicle for a handful of rich businessmen," he said at a hurriedly-convened media briefing.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi didn't comment. Instead, he posted Mahatma Gandhi's quote on Twitter.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said public figures must refer to the country's icons with "utmost respect and sensitivity".
On Saturday, Mr Shah suggested there was no reason for him to apologise. "Everyone has heard the context in which I made that remark... Surjewala needs to answer on a lot of principles of Gandhiji," he said.