Haryana Minister Anil Vij on Saturdy courted controversy with remarks that Mahatma Gandhi's image did not help khadi and caused devaluation of the currency, sparking widespread outrage with even his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party condemning the statements following which he withdrew them.
The senior BJP leader in Haryana, who is not a stranger to controversies, said it was good that Gandhi's image has been replaced with that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the calendar and diary of Khadi and Village Industries Commission as Modi is a "better brand" and went on to add that Gandhi's image would be removed gradually from the currency notes too.
The "insulting" remarks by Vij, were slammed by Tushar Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi's great-grandson, who alleged that it was "well orchestrated" campaign from the "high command" and the minister was speaking the language of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Congress said Gandhi "can be killed, his photographs can be removed but he remains in the soul of India".
Asked about the controversy over Modi's photo, Vij, a five-time MLA from Ambala Cantt, told reporters, "Gandhiji's name has no patent over khadi. Since Gandhi's name has been attached with khadi, it has only gone down.
"When Gandhi's image was put on notes, the currency also got devalued," Vij said.
"It is a good move to replace Gandhi's image with Modi. Modi is a better brand than Gandhi. With the Modi brand name, Khadi sales increased," he said in reply to queries from reporters.
On why the BJP government continued with Gandhi's image on the new currency notes introduced after demonetisation, he said, "It will also go gradually."
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala attacked the Modi government over the remarks saying it is doing what the Britishers did.
"Subjugate people and institutions and use the power of the state to stifle every dissenting voice but Modiji, Anil Vij and BJP must remember that Mahatma Gandhi, you can kill him, you can remove his photograph, you can abuse Mahatma Gandhi, but Gandhi has always lived in the soul of India," he said.
An embarrassed BJP condemned Vij's remarks. "We condemn these remarks. These are his personal comments," BJP spokesperson Shrikant Sharma said
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar also quickley distanced himself, saying the remarks have been made by the minister in his personal capacity and the party does not endorse them and has nothing to do with them.
Vij later withdrew his remarks. "The statement given by me in connection with Mahatma Gandhi was given in my personal capacity. To avoid hurting anyone's sentiments, I am withdrawing it," the minister tweeted.
"As far as the statement is concerned, Anil Vij is our senior minister and makes statement with due care, but still what one says in his personal capacity, it is not linked with the party...," Khattar said when asked about Vij's remarks at a press conference.
Rashtriya Janata Dal Chief Lalu Yadav said "it is unfortunate for the country that Mahatma Gandhi is being insulted".
"Bapu gave us our freedom. Is the minister not ashamed of using such words for Gandhiji," the former Bihar chief minister said.
Reacting to the remarks against the Father of the Nation, Tushar Gandhi said, "This is not only his (Vij's) voice. It is a very well orchestrated, organised, and conducted campaign from the high command.
"The ideology which got Bapu murdered is now going to overturn and tarnish his legacy. This is just a part of that strategy. Vij is speaking the voice of the BJP, the government and the RSS."
Vij, a popular face of the party in the state, was pipped by Khattar in the the race for chief ministership after the BJP won in Haryana in 2014.
His remarks that those who cannot live without beef should not come to Haryana where a stringent cow protection law has been implemented had raised eyebrows.
Over a year back, he had accused his own government of spying on him after coming across a constable standing outside his office.
He was also involved with a verbal spat with a woman IPS officer in November 2015. The IPS officer had then refused to leave a public grievance meeting on direction of Vij who was irked with her response to a query on illicit liquor trade in the area.
Vij's remarks came even as the opposition had been criticising the move to use photo of Modi in the calendar and the diary of KVIC and not that of Gandhi.
The Prime Minister's Office, while dismissing the controversy over Modi' photo as "unnecessary", had said "there is no rule in KVIC that its diary and calendar should have only Gandhiji's photo."
KVIC chairman V K Saxena had also defended the move, saying there is "no rule or tradition" that only Mahatma Gandhi's picture can be published on these items.