BJP, Congress spar as Mahatma Gandhi, Nathuram Godse take centrestage in final poll battle

BJP has said that it does not endorse Sadhvi Pragya's views on Mahatma Gandhi.

New Delhi: As the high-decibel campaigning for the final phase of the keenly contested 2019 Lok Sabha election came to an end on Friday, the electioneering saw the country's two main political parties – BJP and Congress – sparring over Mahatma Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse.

The Gandhi-Godse controversy came to fore after BJP's Bhopal Lok Sabha candidate Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur made an unwarranted reference to Godse and hailed him as ''a patriot.''

Sadhvi, who is an accused in the Malegaon blasts case, courted controversy during a roadshow on Thursday when she lauded Godse as a "patriot", sparking an outrage from the Opposition, especially the Congress party.

Campaigning for 7th phase of Lok Sabha election ends, 59 seats to vote on May 19  

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As expected, Sadhvi's statement was not well received by the Congress party, which launched a barrage of attacks on BJP, saying ''it reflected its true colour.'' 

Under attack from all sides, Sadhvi issued an apology over her remarks on Godse.

After row over Godse, Congress switches to Mahatma Gandhi's image on Twitter

As the row over Sadhvi's remarks escalated, BJP's MP from Karnataka Nalinkumar Kateel compared Godse with former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

"Godse killed one, Kasab killed 72, Rajiv Gandhi killed 17,000. You judge who is more cruel in this??" Kateel tweeted, equating Godse with 26/11 Mumbai terror attack convict Ajmal Kasab, and Rajiv Gandhi.

Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde also found himself in the news with a purported tweet justifying Godse's action. However, later the minister claimed his account was hacked.

Adding more fuel to the fire, Madhya Pradesh BJP spokesperson Anil Saumitra, in a controversial post, called Mahatma Gandhi ''the father of Pakistan.'' He was suspended from the primary membership of the party. Taking to a Facebook post, Saumitra had said that Gandhi is the ''Father of Pakistan.'' He also said that crores of people were born in India like Gandhi, though some were useful and others useless.

BJP suspends Anil Saumitra for calling Mahatma Gandhi 'Father of Pakistan'

As the BJP faced severe backlash over Sadhvi's controversial comments, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while speaking to a private TV channel, said that he will never forgive her for calling Nathuram Godse a true patriot.

The party also served show-cause notices on its Bhopal Lok Sabha candidate for insulting Mahatma Gandhi – The Father of The Nation. 

PM Modi said that Thakur's comments were ''detrimental to society and the language used by her was not acceptable.''

"Whatever has been said about Gandhi or Godse, these kind of statements are very bad and worth contempt. In a cultured society, this type of language is not permissible. This type of thinking won't do. "Therefore, those who are doing this have to think a hundred times. Though she has apologised, I won't be able to pardon her with my heart," PM Modi said, hours before campaigning for the last phase of Lok Sabha polls ended.

Later in the evening, at a press conference at the BJP headquarters in Delhi, Amit Shah regretted the views expressed in praise of Godse by Pragya and two other BJP MPs - Nalinkumar Kateel and Anantkumar Hegde.

Amit Shah says pro-Godse remark not BJP's stand, to seek clarification from party leaders

Shah made this remarks in the presence of PM Modi and assured that prompt action has been initiated against them. 

The BJP chief said that the party's disciplinary committee has issued a notice to the three leaders and has given 10-days time to respond.

"We will immediately decide on appropriate action on them," Shah said.

"The BJP does not associate with the comments of the three leaders. We not only consider such remarks as personal but also we have issued notices to those responsible and disciplinary proceedings have been initiated against them," Shah said. 

Shah, however, asserted that Thakur's candidature from Bhopal is the party's "satyagraha" against fake "saffron" terror case.

"The Congress compromised on the country's security for vote bank politics," he said.

"Some people were caught in the Samjhauta Express case, the CBI said these people are associated with the LeT. American agencies also supported this that these people are associated with the LeT. A fake case of saffron terror was made in which all have been acquitted," Shah said.

The courts have said that saffron terror is imaginary, he said.

While the Congress strongly condemned Sadhvi's statement and demanded action against her, the Grand Old Party changed the profile picture of its Twitter handle and switched to Mahatma Gandhi's image as a mark of protest over the issue.

In a related development, the Madhya Pradesh Chief Electoral Officer also submitted a report to the Election Commission over Sadhvi's offensive remarks. 

Nathuram Godse shot dead Mahatma Gandhi at a prayer meeting in New Delhi on January 30, 1948. He was hanged after a trial.

(With Agency inputs)