After criticism from ally Congress, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut on Thursday withdrew his controversial remarks wherein he claimed that former prime minister Indira Gandhi met gangster Karim Lala in Mumbai.
However, before taking back his comments, Raut said his words were "twisted" by those unaware of Mumbai's history as he meant that Gandhi met Karim Lala in his capacity as representative of the Pathan community.
Later, after Congress leaders Milind Deora and Sanjay Nirupam hit out at Raut over his "ill-informed" remarks, the Sena leader withdrew it.
"If someone feels my statement hurt Indira Gandhi's image, or someone's feelings, I take it back," said Raut, whose party is part of the ruling alliance with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra.
"In the past, I have taken her (Gandhi's) side and argued with people who tried to malign her image. In such cases, some Congress leaders had remained silent," the Rajya Sabha member said.
During an interview to the Lokmat media group at its award function in Pune on Wednesday, Raut claimed, "When (underworld don) Haji Mastan came to Mantralaya, the entire secretariat would come down to see him. Indira Gandhi used to meet Karim Lala in Pydhonie (in south Mumbai)."
He also said that "they (underworld) used to decide who will be Mumbai's police commissioner and who will sit in Mantralaya".
Karim Lala was one of the three top underworld dons of Mumbai for over two decades, from the sixties to early eighties, the other two being Mastan Mirza alias Haji Mastan and Varadarajan Mudaliar.
Taking strong note of the remark, former Union minister Deora and Nirupam asked Raut to withdraw it.
Deora said politicians should refrain from "distorting" legacies of prime ministers who are no more.
Former Mumbai Congress chief Nirupam said Raut will "repent" if he continues a "false campaign" against Gandhi.
While defending his comments, Raut said he had never shied away from praising Indira Gandhi.
"Kareem Lala was leader of Pathan community, he led an organisation called 'Pakhtun-e-Hind'. It was in this capacity of the leader of Pathan community that he met several top leaders including Indira Gandhi. However, those who do not (know) the history of Mumbai, r twisting my statement," Raut said in a tweet.
"I have never shied away from praising Indira Gandhi as an iron lady who took decisions with iron fist. Surprisingly those who do not (know) history of Indiraji are shouting on top of the voice," he said in another tweet while
tagging it to Shiv Sena MLA Aaditya Thackeray, and Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Rajeev Satav.
Latching onto the controversy, former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis sought an explanation from the Congress leadership over Raut's comments and wondered whether the Congress was "funded by Mumbai's underworld".
The Bharatiya Janata Party leader also questioned if (at that time) it was the beginning of "criminalisation of politics" in the state, and if the Congress "supported" those who attacked Mumbai.
Was the Congress in need of "muscle power" to win elections in those days? he asked.