Maharashtra minister Aaditya Thackeray on Thursday, 16 January, said that Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray had immense respect for Indira Gandhi and claimed that party leader Sanjay Raut's controversial statements on the former prime minister were taken out of context.
Raut, a Shiv Sena MP, on Wednesday set-off a political storm with his remarks that Gandhi had met gangster Karim Lala in Mumbai.
"Kareem Lalaji was a Pathan leader. What he became later is unknown to me. It was Rautji’s observation about a meeting, but the issue is over now, Thackeray said, seeking to put an end of the controversy after Raut withdrew the remarks.
As the Congress, part of the ruling coalition, took strong objection to the controversial comments, calling them "ill-informed", Raut on Thursday withdrew the remarks.
“Our friends from Congress need not feel hurt. If someone feels that my statement has hurt the image of Indira Gandhi ji or hurt someone’s feelings, I take back my statement.”Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut
Raut’s initial statement came under made during an interview to the Lokmat media group, has received massive backlash from senior Congress leader Milind Deora. Deora took to social media demanding that Raut withdraw his ‘ill-informed statement’.
Maharashtra’s revenue minister and Congress leader Balasaheb Thorat said that the controversy has ended since Raut has withdrawn his comments.
“But in the future, Raut should avoid making such irresponsible & irrelevant statements with respect to our leaders as this will not be tolerated,” he added.
Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam also hit out at Raut saying he should concentrate on "keeping Maharashtra entertained with his poetry".
In a tweet, Sanjay Nirupam said, "It would be better if Mr. Poet sticks to entertaining Maharashtra with his light-hearted poetry. If he tries to defame former PM Indira Gandhi he will regret it later. The things he said about Indiraji yesterday must be withdrawn immediately."
Under fire for his remark, Raut attempted damage control as he told ANI on Thursday, 16 January, that he has always stood up for Indira Gandhi.
“The respect that I have always shown towards Indira Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi & the Gandhi family, despite being in opposition, nobody has done it. Whenever people have targeted Indira Gandhi, I have stood up for her.”Sanjay Raut to ANI
During his interview at the Lokmat group award show on 15 January, Raut had said, “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).
Karim Lala, Mastan Mirza alias Haji Mastan and Varadarajan Mudaliar were among the top underworld dons of Mumbai from the sixties to the early eighties.
Raut further explained his comment by stating that since Lala was a leader of the Paithan community, many political leaders used to meet him.
“Many political people used to come to meet Karim Lala, times were different back then. He was a leader of the Pathan community, he had come from Afghanistan. So, people used to meet him over the problems faced by the Pathan community.”Sanjay Raut to ANI
‘Was Congress Funded By Mumbai's Underworld?’: Fadnavis
Meanwhile, former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis asked the Congress for a clarification on whether it was "funded by Mumbai's underworld", reports The Economic Times.
He also questioned if the Congress heralded the "criminalisation of politics" in the state and "supported" those who attacked Mumbai.
“Sanjay Raut has made a major expos about late PM Indira Gandhi. Why was she visiting Mumbai and whether the Congress was funded by the underworld of Mumbai? Was it the beginning of criminalisation of politics?”Devendra Fadnavis
BJP leader Amit Malviya also took a dig at the coalition government in Maharashtra over Sanjay Raut’s initial comment.
(With inputs from PTI, ANI and The Economic Times)