Amid nationwide concern over farmer suicides, the agriculture minister of Haryana, Om Prakash Dhankar, is being accused of displaying egregious insensitivity with his comment that "farmers who commit suicide are cowards and criminals."
"According to Indian law, suicide is a crime. A person who commits suicide runs away from his responsibilities. Such people are cowards and the government cannot stand by such cowards, such criminals," Mr Dhankar told reporters on Tuesday.
His attempts at damage control today did not help. In round 2 with the media, the minister defended his comments and said, "Suicide par Naatak ho rahaa hai. What happened in Delhi was drama, motivated murder. Haryana is the land of the brave. We don't want to encourage suicides here. People who commit suicide are running away from their duties and transferring the burden to their wives and children."
The minister said he was referring to the Rajasthan farmer who hanged himself at an Aam Aadmi Party rally in Delhi.
Mr Dhankar's party, the ruling BJP, later distanced itself from the comment.
"The BJP is very clear - the government stands by farmers. The government will see to it that whatever can be done for farmers, we will," party spokesperson Sambit Patra said. "If his statement has hurt anyone, we don't have anything to do with the statement."
The comment embarrasses his party at a time it is battling criticism over a proposal to make it easier to buy farm land for infrastructure and other key projects. The Congress and other opposition parties have accused the Narendra Modi government of shortchanging farmers.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who has thrown himself into a countrywide farmer outreach campaign after a two-month sabbatical, used the minister's comments to target PM Modi and the BJP in Parliament.
Mr Gandhi took a train to Punjab on Tuesday to meet farmers. "The PM is visiting India these days. He should visit Punjab and speak to farmers," said the Congress vice president, in a dig at the prime minister's foreign visits.