Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar's recent statement on his experience with Pakistani people has hotted up the hustings in poll-bound Maharashtra with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Monday linking it with vote bank politics.
Mr Fadnavis also said big politicians should bear in mind whether their statements are benefitting India or Pakistan, and added that Pakistan had used the remarks of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on the scrapping of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir to attack India.
Meanwhile, riled by the pointed attack on the party patriarch, the NCP has accused the chief minister of purposefully twisting Sharad Pawar's statement.
Addressing a meeting of minority community members at the NCP office in Mumbai on Saturday, the former Defence Minister recalled that he had visited Pakistan several times and was always accorded warm hospitality.
"Pakistanis are of the belief that even if they can't travel to India to meet their relatives, they treat all Indians as their relatives," he had said.
Speaking to reporters in Karad in Satara district on Monday as a part of his last leg of the "Mahajandesh Yatra", the chief minister said, "Big leaders (Sharad Pawar) should understand whether their statements will benefit India or Pakistan. When Rahul Gandhi went to Kashmir he had made similar statements. Making Gandhi's statement a base, Pakistan had said in the United Nations the next day that Gandhi was echoing their (Pakistan) views," he said.
Assigning political motives to Mr Pawar's statements, the Chief Minister said elections would come and go but making such statements for the sake of votes is not good.
The assembly elections in the state are due next month.
"It seems Pawar saheb is not aware that Indian Muslims have a great pride for India. If Pawar thinks that Muslims will vote for him (NCP) if he makes such statements, then that thought itself is doing injustice (to Muslims)," he said, adding that Mr Pawar's statement shows the NCP's "mentality".
Hitting back at Mr Fadnavis, NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said the chief minister did not understand the importance of Sharad Pawar's statement.
"Pawar knows better about the interests of the country than the chief minister of the state. Fadnavis is mis-communicating Pawar's statements," he said.
Nawab Malik clarified Mr Pawar had only shared his experience when he had visited Pakistan as a chairman of the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) in the past.
"The response of the common people to Pawar there was not of animosity, but they treated him well. He had shared his experience but Fadnavis distorted his statement for the political gain," he alleged.
Ahead of the high-stake polls, many leaders of the Sharad Pawar-led party have deserted to either the BJP or the Shiv Sena.
Some of the prominent leaders who quit the NCP recently include former ministers Jaidutta Kshirsagar, Ganesh Naik and Sachin Ahir, Maratha royal Udayanraje Bhosale and former state unit president Bhaskar Jadhav.
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