Prime Minister Narendra Modi has slammed the BJP's candidate for the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat Sadhvi Pragya for calling Nathuram Godse a 'patriot'.
"She has apologised. That is a different thing. But in my heart, I cannot forgive her," the PM said during an interview to a news channel. He went on to say that such leaders should think a hundred times before making such statements in the future.
Earlier, with another phase of polling pending in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP pulled up three of its leaders - two sitting MPs and one MP candidate - for their remarks on Nathuram Godse.
BJP president Amit Shah took to Twitter to distance the party from statements made by Sadhvi and Karnataka MPs Nalinkumar Kateel and Ananth Kumar Hegde, calling it their 'personal opinion'.
The party has asked its disciplinary committee to seek an explanation from all three leaders and submit a report in ten days. Shah did not commit to whether this report will be made public or what action will be taken following the report.
"Statements made by Ananth Kumar Hegde, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Nalinkumar Kateel in the last two days are their personal opinions. Those statements have no connection whatsoever to the BJP. They have withdrawn their personal statements and have also apologised for it. However, keeping in mind the public sentiment and the dignity and ideology of the BJP, it has been decided to refer this to the disciplinary committee. The Committee will seek an explanation from all three leaders and has been instructed to submit a report within ten days to the party," tweeted Shah.
The statements of the three leaders supporting or even glorifying Mahatma Gandhi's murderer Nathuram Godse left the saffron party embarrassed.
While Pragya Thakur who called Godse a 'patriot' was forced to issue a clarification and apology, two MPs from Karnataka Hegde and Kateel - who are infamous for making communal statements - took to Twitter to back Pragya and support Godse.
All their tweets, however, have been deleted now. While Kateel apologised for his tweets, Hegde claimed that his account was hacked and someone else had tweeted the controversial statements.
"I have observed that my previous two tweets have drawn a lot of flak. I apologise if my tweets hurt anyone. It was not my intention to hurt anybody. I have withdrawn the tweets as soon as I realised that it has hurt sentiments. Let us end the discussion here," tweeted Nalin Kumar Kateel on Friday.
On Thursday he had drawn parallels between Godse, Ajmal Kasab and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi asking who was the bigger terrorist.
"My account was hacked since yesterday. There is no question of justifying Gandhi ji's murder. There can be no sympathy or justification of Gandhi ji's murder. We all have full respect for Gandhi ji's contribution to the nation," Ananth Kumar Hegde tweeted on Friday in an attempt to defend himself.
On Thursday, the Union minister had said he "was glad that seven decades later today's generation debates in a changed perceptional environment and gives good scope for the condemned to be heard upon. Nathuram Godse would have finally felt happy with this debate."
On Thursday Sadhvi Pragya had tendered an apology for her comments.
मैं नाथूराम गोडसे के बारे में दिये गए मेरे बयान के लिये देश की जनता से माफ़ी माँगती हूँ । मेरा बयान बिलकुल ग़लत था । मैं राष्ट्रपिता महात्मा गांधी जी का बहुत सम्मान करती हूँ ।— Sadhvi Pragya Official (@SadhviPragya_MP) May 16, 2019
The 2008 Malegaon blast accused and BJP candidate from the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat had dubbed Mahatma Gandhi's killer Nathuram Godse as a deshbhakt (patriot). Thakur who was on a roadshow in Agar Malwa district was questioned by journalists about film actor turned politician Kamal Haasan's recently saying that Nathuram Godse was the first terrorist. "
Nathuram Godse ek deshbhakt they, hain aur rahenge (Godse was a patriot and will continue to be so in future also)," Thakur had said.
The whole fiasco drew sharp criticism from Congress as senior party leader Kapil Sibal questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi's silence on Pragya's remarks and said he can only pray for the country.
In a tweet, Sibal said, "When Sadhvi Pragya says: 'Godse a Deshbakht' and Modi is silent with Vidyasagar's statue a victim of the violent I can only pray for my country and hope that one day the silent majority will keep violence at bay."
His party colleague, former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah, stepped into the debate to say, Godse, who killed the father of the nation in January 1948, was inspired by RSS ideology.
"Godse was inspired by Sangh Pariwar's ideology & so is Pragya. Former killed our Mahatma & the latter killed Mahatma's children. Pragya who calls Godse a patriot is endorsed by @narendramodi Is this the sign of an attempt to proliferate Sangh's hatred based ideology," he tweeted.
Earlier this week, Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) founder Kamal Haasan stoked controversy saying "free India's first extremist was a Hindu", referring to Godse.
On Friday too, the actor-politician said that every religion has its own terrorists and that no one claim to be sanctimonious.
"Let me tell you terrorists abound all religions. Every religion has its own terrorists and we cannot claim that we are sanctimonious and we have not done that. History shows you that all religions have their extremists," he told reporters in Chennai, adding his focus in Sunday's campaign speech was on maintaining harmony.
He also said that he was not afraid of being arrested but warned any such action would escalate tensions.
"I don't fear arrest but I have got campaigning to do. Let them arrest. But if they arrest me tensions will escalate. This is not my request but an advice," he said.
Campaigning for India's seven-phase elections ends on Friday evening. The last day of polling is May 19 and the votes will be counted on May 23.
(With agency inputs)