Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut, facing ally Congress's fury over his comment that Indira Gandhi met underworld don Karim Lala, took back his statement today saying "our friends from Congress need not feel hurt".
In an interview to the Lokmat Media group on Wednesday, Mr Raut had said Indira Gandhi used to meet Karim Lala, an underworld don active during the 1960s and 1970s in Mumbai. Several Congress leaders demanded that the Sena leader take back his words.
"Our friends from Congress need not feel hurt. If someone feels that my statement has hurt the image of Indira Gandhi ji or hurt someone's feelings, I take back my statement," Mr Raut said.
Karim Lala was involved in smuggling, narcotics, gambling and extortion for over two decades in Mumbai. He died in 2002 at 90.
Mr Raut had said yesterday: "There was a time when Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel, Sharad Shetty would decide who will be Mumbai's police commissioner and who will sit in Mantralaya (state secretariat). When Haji Mastan came to Mantralaya, the entire secretariat would come down to see him. Indira Gandhi used to meet Karim Lala in Pydhonie (in south Mumbai)."
Many in the Congress were outraged.
"Indira ji was a true patriot who never compromised on India's national security. As former Congress Mumbai president, I demand that Sanjay Raut-ji withdraws his ill-informed statement. Political leaders must show restraint before distorting the legacies of deceased Prime Ministers," Mumbai Congress leader Milind Deora tweeted.
Indira ji was a true patriot who never compromised on India's national security.— Milind Deora मिलिंद देवरा (@milinddeora) January 16, 2020
As former @INCMumbai President, I demand that @rautsanjay61 ji withdraws his ill-informed statement.
Political leaders must show restraint before distorting the legacies of deceased Prime Ministers
"It would be better if Mr Poet of Shiv Sena continues reciting light-hearted poetry of others to entertain Maharashtra. If he propagates against former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, he will have to repent," tweeted another Maharashtra Congress leader, Sanjay Nirupam.
In response, Mr Raut put out a series of tweets to argue that he had always been respectful towards the Gandhis, especially Indira Gandhi.
"The respect that I have always shown towards Indira Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi and the Gandhi family, despite being in opposition, nobody has done it. Whenever people have targeted Indira Gandhi, I have stood up for her," he said.
I have never shied away from praising Indira Gandhi as an iron lady who took decisions with iron fist. Surprisingly those who do not history of Indiraji are shouting on top of the voice. @AUThackeray@RahulGandhi@SATAVRAJEEV @— Sanjay Raut (@rautsanjay61) January 16, 2020
Alleging that his statements were being "twisted" by those who didn't know history, the Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha member wrote: "I have never shied away from praising Indira Gandhi as an iron lady who took decisions with iron fist. Surprisingly those who do not know the history of Indiraji are shouting on top of the voice."
Mr Raut claimed "many political people" used to meet Karim Lala as times were different back then. "He was a leader of the Pathan community, he had come from Afghanistan. So, people used to meet him over the problems faced by the Pathan community," he tweeted.
The ideologically incompatible Sena and Congress have disagreed more than once since they formed government along with the NCP in Maharashtra in November. The Sena skipped a Congress-led opposition meet on Monday to discuss the controversial citizenship law, saying it wasn't invited. Earlier, the Congress had been upset when the Sena voted with the BJP-led government on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in parliament.
The Sena also took exception to Rahul Gandhi saying at a rally: " My name is not Rahul Savarkar. My name is Rahul Gandhi. I will never apologise for truth." Mr Raut had hit out at the Congress MP for "insulting a Hindutva icon", Veer Savarkar.