Facing flak for his "item" jibe about Madhya Pradesh minister Imarti Devi, state Congress chief Kamal Nath has expressed regret and claimed that he did not say anything disrespectful.
While Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said earlier in the day that he did not appreciate the kind of language Nath used, Nath maintained that he would not apologise.
Nath claimed the word "item' is used in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, but the BJP tried to "mislead" by making it an issue to divert people's attention as it is sensing defeat in the November 3 bypolls in Madhya Pradesh.
"I did not say anything disrespectful. I respect women. If anyone thinks this is disrespectful, then I regret it," he told reporters on Monday night.
Addressing a poll meeting on Sunday in Gwalior's Dabra town, where the BJP has fielded Imarti Devi, Kamal Nath said the Congress candidate was a "simple person" unlike his opponent who was an "item".
State BJP leaders, led by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, on Monday held a protest against Kamal Nath, while the National Commission for Women sought an explanation from the Congress leader for his remark.
Chouhan also wrote to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, asking her to condemn Nath's remarks and remove the former chief minister from all party posts.
Nath said, "The BJP is trying to divert the attention from real issues after it realised that it is badly losing. I will not let them succeed."
In a letter to Chouhan on Monday night, he said, "I didn't make any disgraceful remarks but you served lies...the word I said has a lot of meanings. Your party is serving lies and misleading by interpreting the word arbitrarily."
He also alleged that a Union minister and a cabinet colleague of Chouhan recently used derogatory terms for women.
Bypolls to 28 Madhya Pradesh Assembly seats will be held on November 3.
On Tuesday, Nath was asked by reporters about Rahul Gandhi expressing disapproval about his controversial comment.
"It is Rahulji's opinion. Whatever was told to him and in what context I had said that...I have already cleared in what context I said so and there is no need to say anything further," Nath said.
"Why should I apologise? I have already said it was not my aim (to disrespect her). If still someone feels that he or she is disrespected, then I have already regretted it yesterday," he said when asked if he would apologise to Imarti Devi.
On chief minister Chouhan demanding that he apologise to Devi, Nath said, "Rather, he should go in the midst of people to seek apology."
Asked if Rahul Gandhi was angry over the issue, Nath retorted, "Why are you worried about it?"
Speaking in Wayanad, Rahul Gandhi said Nath's comment about Imarti Devi was "unfortunate".
"One cannot treat women with disrespect....I don't like personally the type of language that Kamal Nath-ji has used. I do not appreciate it. It is unfortunate," Gandhi said.