'Now it's time to have a Bengali as PM.'
Dilip Ghosh, the Bharatiya Janata Party's West Bengal chief, ruffled a few feathers within his party on Saturday, January 5, when he said Trinamool Congress supremo and state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has the best chance to become the first Bengali prime minister of the country.
However, on Sunday, Ghosh made a U-turn and said his remark was made in jest.
'On Saturday, when reporters asked me whether I would like to make any comment on Mamata Banerjee, I just extended my best wishes to her. Whatever I said about her prime ministership was just a joke. I was joking as it was her birthday,' Ghosh said.
Extending his birthday wishes to her, Ghosh on Saturday said that he prayed her good health and success in life 'because the fate of our state depends on her success'.
'We want her to be fit so that she can work well. She needs to remain fit because if there is any Bengali who has the chance to be the PM from this Bengal, then she is the one,' he said.
Asked if anyone from his own party's Bengal unit had the chance to be the PM, Ghosh said Mamata Banerjee was ahead in the race among Bengalis who can become the prime minister.
'We can surely have one from Bengal after her. But she has the first chance. We couldn't have Jyoti Basu as the first Bengali prime minister as his party did not allow him to be,' Ghosh said.
'We had Pranab Mukherjee from the state as the first Bengali to become President so now it's time to have a Bengali as PM,' he added.
The opposition, meanwhile, claimed that the statement reflected a "tacit understanding" between the TMC and the saffron party.
The Congress said the statement was "sort of an admission" from the state BJP chief, who probably knew that the chances of the saffron party returning to power at the Centre after this year's general election were "slim".
'The statement reflects two things -- a covert understanding between the BJP and the TMC, and that attempts to forge federal fronts are ploys to divide the opposition,' senior Congress leader and Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Abdul Mannan said.
Ghosh's remark showed that he was certain that the BJP would not come back to power, he added.
Echoing similar sentiments, the Communist Party of India-Marxist leadership said the 'tacit understanding between the TMC and the BJP is now out in the open'.
'We have been saying this for a long time that the TMC and the BJP are playing a fixed political match in the state. Now the state BJP president himself has given a proof of it with his remarks,' CPI-M central committee member Sujan Chakraborty said.
In his defence, Ghosh said his remark should not be taken "seriously".
'Anyone with a bit of political sense can very well say that Mamata Banerjee can never become the prime minister with the number of Lok Sabha seats she has,' he said.
When approached, the TMC leadership declined to comment on the issue.