A senior leader of the Congress party, which had promised to crack down on radical groups in hopes of winning next week's Karnataka election, said on Thursday that there was no proposal to ban the Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the Sangh-affiliated Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Veerappa Moily, a former chief minister of Karnataka and a member of parliament, made the statement in Udupi, two days after the party's announcement in the May 10 election manifesto triggered a backlash from members of the ruling BJP, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"We have mentioned both the PFI and the Bajrang Dal in our manifesto. This includes all (radical) outfits. Banning an outfit is not possible by a state government. The Bajrang Dal cannot be banned by the Karnataka government," he said.
"DK Shivakumar will give more clarity... Even the Supreme Court has given judgement to stop hate politics. We have no proposal to ban the Bajrang Dal. I can tell you this as a leader," Mr Moily, also a former Union Minister, added.
The clarification came as the BJP organised a demonstration against the manifesto, with former Karnataka minister and senior BJP leader KS Eshwarappa setting fire to the document in Kalaburgi.
"Bajrang Dal is a patriotic organisation. This is an attempt by the Congress to support the PFI, an outfit that was banned by the centre under the anti-terror law," he said.
The manifesto had said that the Congress party was committed to taking "firm and decisive action" against individuals and organizations spreading "enmity or hatred, whether among majority or minority communities."
It had named the Popular Front of India (PFI), a Muslim group banned by some states for alleged links to terrorism, and the Bajrang Dal, which is often linked with vigilantism, violence and moral policing.
The inclusion of the Bajrang Dal in the manifesto had drawn sharp criticism from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who accused the Congress of insulting Lord Hanuman, a Hindu deity revered by the group.
He also said that the Congress had a problem with Lord Ram, another Hindu god whose temple the BJP wants to build at a disputed site in Ayodhya.
Hitting back, the Congress accused the Prime Minister of "hurting religious sentiments" of devotees by equating Lord Hanuman with the Bajrang Dal and demanded an apology from him.
Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said it is shameful that the prime minister has drawn such a parallel, which is an insult to crores of devotees of Lord Hanuman.