Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh [ Images ] hit out at Opposition-backed candidate P A Sangma and one of his key backers Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for playing the tribal card in the Presidential polls.
Echoing Union Home Minister P Chidambaram's [ Images ] views, Ramesh also rejected as "utterly scandalous" Bharatiya Janata Party's [ Images ] contention in the Office of Profit row that UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee's [ Images ] resignation letter to Indian Statistical Institute was forged, regretting the lack of 'sanctity' in public life.
"The way BJP and poll managers of Sangma are trying to hurl mud at Mr Mukherjee ... No words are enough to condemn this. This is really scandalous. There should be some sanctity left in public life," Ramesh told reporters.
Asked for his comment on the perception that religion and caste were at play in the presidential election, Ramesh said," We cannot divide India [ Images ] this way - either on the basis of caste, religion or language or ethnic community. We have an India but we need to create Indians who have pride in their country."
Acknowledging that Indians certainly have identity markers like caste, religion, language, ethnic community, Ramesh said politics must go beyond these divides.
"Unfortunately politics in our country is dividing our society. It should not happen. Our democracy should be an agglomerate of democracy. We should bring people together and not divide them," he said.
Without naming anyone, Ramesh took a dig at Patnaik, saying the BJD chief should do something on ground for the development of tribals.
"I would appeal to leaders of Odisha who have suddenly discovered themselves as champions of tribal welfare and tribal interests that the best way of standing up for tribal issues is actually doing something on the ground on tribal welfare programmes ... especially health," Ramesh said.
On the Maoist problem in tribal areas of the state, Ramesh, said most leaders, who claimed to be champions of tribal welfare, had not dared to visit Malkangiri and other places.
"I have already spent a night at Malkangiri, considered as the worst Maoist-hit pockets in Odisha," he added.