Yogi Adityanath, who has been campaigning for the ruling BJP in states where elections are being held, has been criticized by the opposition for his comment on Lord Hanuman in Rajasthan. Now, a minister in his government has also taken strong objection to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister's remark.
Addressing a public meeting in Shamli district on Sunday, state minister Om Prakash Rajbhar said it was wrong to divide Gods into castes.
Due to this controversy, Dalit community is demanding to takeover Hanuman temples, said Mr Rajbhar, who holds backward classes welfare ministry in the Yogi government.
The minister was referring to Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Ravan, who asked members of the community to take over all temples belonging to Hanuman. "Dalits should take over all Hanuman temples in the country and appoint Dalits as priests there," said Chandrashekhar, who launched the Bhim Army for young Dalits like himself in 2014.
Known for his provocative comments, Mr Adityanath's comment on Lord Hanuman at a rally in Alwar had invited him a legal notice from a right-wing group.
"Bajrang Bali (Hanuman) is such a god that he is a forest-dweller, lives in the mountains. Dalits, deprived, he takes everyone along, from east to west, north to south, and unites them all," he said while urging the crowd to take a "Bajrangi sankalp (vow)" to vote the BJP candidate in the December 7 elections.
A group that calls itself the "Rajasthan Sarv Brahmin Mahasabha" sent the saffron-wearing chief minister a legal notice accusing him of playing on Hanuman's caste for votes in Rajasthan. The Congress also urged the Election Commission to take action against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister. In a complaint lodged with the election body, the Congress accused Mr Adityanath of posing a threat to communal harmony in Rajasthan.
Yogi Adityanath's supporters, however, claim the group had based its notice on a distorted version of Yogi Adityanath's speech, in which he seemed to say "Bajrang Bali (Hanuman) is such a god that he is a forest-dweller, lives in the mountains, is a dalit, deprived..."
This is not the first time that Yogi Adityanath, who has emerged as one of the star campaigners of the BJP, has referred to Bajrang Bali in an election campaign.
Citing a video that showed senior Congress leader Kamal Nath apparently asking Muslim leaders to ensure en masse votes for the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, the UP Chief Minister said: "I recently read a statement by Kamal Nathji that the Congress does not need Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes votes. The Congress only wants Muslim votes... Keep your Ali, Bajrang Bali is enough for us."
(with inputs from agencies)