Ticked off by the Congress leadership, Union minister Beni Prasad Verma on Wednesday regretted his remarks against Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who demanded his resignation during meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
"I have not given any interview saying he (Yadav) extends support (to the government) after taking commission. But if anybody's sentiments are hurt by such remarks, I express my regret," Verma said after meeting the prime minister, who is learnt to have read him the riot act for angering the 21-member SP, whose support is crucial for the government in the wake of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s pullout.
But Yadav did not appear to be satisfied with the regret expressed by Verma and said the SP Parliamentary Board will meet on Thursday morning to take a call on the issue.
"There is a difference between regret and an apology," SP leader Shailendra Kumar said after Yadav met the prime minister.
Between adjournments in the Lok Sabha, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde met Yadav separately and are understood to have conveyed to him that the Congress strongly disapproved of Verma's remarks.
In the Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj said Verma had tarnished the image of the SP chief, who was "a respected leader of the House. He should either prove his charges or apologise."
Swaraj said after making such "disparaging remarks", Verma had "no right to continue in office”.
She said the Bharatiya Janata Party and the SP may have political differences, but "this is a matter of privilege of the House."
Gandhi, who was present in the House and was watching the new bonhomie between SP, an outside supporter of the United Progressive Alliance, and BJP, walked up to Yadav's seat soon after Lok Sabha was adjourned around noon. Though she was not audible to reporters in the press gallery, Gandhi was seen talking to Yadav with folded hands.
Earlier, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath had said that the "matter is closed" for the government, after he expressed regret in the Lok Sabha over Verma's remarks.
The Congress had expressed displeasure over Verma's remarks by saying it had "taken this issue very seriously".