CHANDIGARH: Opposition Congress today staged protests across Haryana against Education Minister Ram Bilas Sharma for allegedly using objectionable language while referring to India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Health and Sports Minister Anil Vij, who had recently hogged headlines over a series of tweets indicating that he was being sidelined in the Manohar Lal Khattar government, flared up the latest controversy when his comments were sought in the matter.
The controversy started when Sharma, speaking as chief guest at the three-day folk festival at Maharshi Dayanand University at Rohtak yesterday, narrated an anecdote in which two persons during a conversation used some cuss words while talking about Nehru.
He was delivering a speech on the literary legacy of renowned Haryanvi folk artiste, Lakshmi Chand.
In a damage control act, he later apologised.
"I did not mean to be disrespectful towards the country's first Prime Minister. I was just using Haryanvi dialect and referring to conversation between co-passengers who had boarded a bus from Rohtak to Delhi when Nehru had passed away. If anybody's sentiments have been hurt, I apologise for the same," he told reporters in Panchkula.
Later, when was asked to comment on the language used by Sharma, Vij said, "Though Nehru was not a good man, still the Minister should not have used such words against him."
Congress was quick to hit out at the Manohar Lal Khattar government, saying use of such language by senior Ministers in the BJP government against national icons cannot be tolerated.
The party held statewide protests, including in Hisar, Jind, Rohtak and other places, where its workers burnt Sharma's effigies and demanded that he step down.
"We strongly condemn use of such words by Sharma. This is not just an insult to Nehru ji, but all those freedom fighters who fought for the country's freedom. Nehru ji was not just a leader of Congress, he was a great freedom fighter, a statesman and son-of-the-soil," Haryana Congress President Ashok Tanwar said.
"This is part of concerted right-wing drive to humiliate national icons," he said.
Tanwar also criticised the remarks saying that use of such language by a senior minister has come barely two days after an orientation class was held here for the newly elected MLAs of Haryana, in which they were told how to conduct themselves before the public.
"Is this what CM Khattar's Ministers learn in orientation programme classes. Is this the kind of education ministers like Sharma are going to impart to our younger generation. Haryana deserves a better Education Minister," he said.
Former Haryana chief minister and Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda also condemned Sharma's remarks. "Whether one is occupying a high post or not, one should not use such a kind of language. Nobody should use such uncivilised language," he said.
"If anyone makes use of such objectionable remarks, he should immediately tender unconditional apology and assure
that he will not repeat such action in the future," he said.
Hooda said that Nehru is one of the tallest leader of this country and people cannot tolerate any derogatory remarks against him. "The people of this country have great love and respect for Nehru ji."
This is not the first time that Ram Bilas Sharma, who until recently was state BJP president, has courted controversy. A month ago, he had kicked up a row saying that the state government was keen to "saffronise" education just days after it took a decision to include 'Bhagwad Gita' in the school curriculum.
At a function in Kurukshetra, Sharma had then said the move to introduce Gita in the school curriculum is just a "small beginning" towards "saffronisation".