Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh and former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis traded sharp words Tuesday on the political row that has erupted over Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar's tweets in support of the centre and its handling of the farmers' protest.
Responding to allegations the ruling Shiv Sena is more concerned about acting against two Bharat Ratna awardees than ex-Aligarh University student Sharjeel Usman, Mr Deshmukh shot back: "We are not enquiring against Lata Mangeshkar or Sachin Tendulkar but against BJP IT cell..."
Earlier Mr Fadnavis had attacked the Maharashtra government for lacking courage to take action against Mr Usman, whom the BJP has accused of "promoting enmity between different groups" during a speech at a recent Elgar Parishad conclave.
"He insults Hindus and you take no action against him. Even members of Elgar Parishad support his statements but you have no guts to take action against them. But you can take action against Bharat Ratna Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar..." he said on the floor of the Assembly.
"What have they tweeted as such?" he demanded of Mr Deshmukh.
"For a moment let's assume I asked them to tweet that way... so what's my charge here? If my party has asked them to tweet in support of India, we are proud of that," he said, declaring, "We are not scared of your enquiry".
To this attack the Home Minister replied: "We are enquiring against BJP IT cell. We are not enquiring against Lata Mangeshkar or Sachin Tendulkar... but against BJP IT cell."
Mr Fadnavis' sarcastic reply was: "We are glad that you are enquiring against people who support the nation. This shows your patriotism."
The exchange also caught the attention of Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole, who told NDTV: "Congress sent Sachin, or Rekha, to the Rajya Sabha. But we have never used them for politics. Today Devendra Fadnavis accepted the BJP uses celebrities for personal gain."
Early last month Mr Tendulkar and Ms Mangeshkar tweeted as part of a celebrity-fueled pushback against pop star Rihanna and her six-word tweet on the farmers' protest.
Several of these tweets were nearly identical to each other, fueling speculation they'd been drafted by the centre and that many of those who had tweeted had been directed to do so.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray weighed in too, saying the centre had been wrong to "stake their (Mr Tendulkar and Ms Mangeshkar's) reputations".
Days later Mr Deshmukh ordered a probe; he was quoted by news agency PTI as saying "... politician is threatened with ED or CBI probe if he/she speaks against the BJP... As far as celebrities' tweets are concerned, we will definitely probe into those."
The BJP immediately hit back, with senior leader Ashish Shelar saying: "I doubt if Maharashtra Home Minister thinks before speaking. Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar are not just celebrities, they are Bharat Ratna recipients."
With input from PTI