Contending that Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel's contributions have been undervalued for long, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday questioned the "delay" in conferring Bharat Ratna on the first home minister.
Without naming any party, the senior BJP leader sought to know "which powers" were causing the delay in giving due recognition to the ''Iron Man'', who is remembered for having facilitated seamless integration of more than 500 princely states upon Independence.
The Congress, however, was quick to hit back, saying that it was "unbecoming of a Union minister to have used such a solemn occasion to settle political scores".
Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel was posthumously awarded the country's highest civilian award in 1991, over four decades after his demise.
"After the country attained Independence in 1947, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel lived for only three years. And what he accomplished during the time is known to all. But it took so long to bestow Bharat Ratna up on him.
"He was conferred with the highest civilian honor only in 1991, much after people like Indira Gandhi and V V Giri. I wonder which powers were behind causing this delay," Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
The BJP MP from Patna Sahib was addressing a gathering in front of a memorial built in the memory of the Quit India movement, adjacent to the state assembly premises, before taking part in the "Run for Unity" organised on the occasion of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel Jayanti (birth anniversary).
Several other BJP leaders, including Pataliputra MP Ram Kripal Yadav and local MLAs, took part in the march that concluded at Chitkohra, about a kilometer away.
Taking exception to Ravi Shankar Prasad's snide remarks, Congress legislator Prem Chandra Mishra said the saffron party has organized "Run for Unity", but the words and actions of its leaders cause disunity.
The Narendra Modi government has been observing Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel's birth anniversary as ''Ekta Diwas'' or National Unity Day since 2014. Various events, including a marathon run, have been organised across the country to mark the occasion.
"Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel stood for unity. The BJP may be celebrating the day by organizing run for unity but its leaders keep saying things which only cause disunity. It is unbecoming of a Union minister to have used such a solemn occasion to settle political scores," Mishra stated.
Congress ally RJD also flayed the senior BJP leader for his remark.
"What is the BJP's own track record with regard to its own senior leaders? The Lauh Purush (iron man) epithet they used for L K Advani too - who served as the Union home minister and deputy prime minister under Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
"And now the veteran leader has been dumped," RJD spokesman Mrityunjay Tiwari said.
Meanwhile, at a separate ''Run for Unity'' event held in his Lok Sabha constituency of Begusarai, Union minister Giriraj Singh lavished praise on Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel for his achievements as a home minister.
He also asserted that there was a need to implement NRC across the country so that "all those who are staying in India without citizenship are made to leave".