Actor-politician Kamal Haasan has said independent India's first "extremist was a Hindu"—Nathuram Godse who killed Mahatma Gandhi, stoking a controversy with the BJP on Monday asserting that an "assassin" is very different from a terrorist.
The BJP also accused the Makkal Needhi Maiyam founder of indulging in "divisive politics" and following the Congress and Communists in showing Hindus "in a bad light to appease minorities".
Addressing an election campaign in Tamil Nadu's Aravakurichi on Sunday night, Haasan said he was one of those "proud Indians" who desires an India of equality and where the "three colours in the tricolour remained intact", in an obvious reference to different faiths.
"I am not saying this because this is a Muslim dominated area, but I am saying this before a statue of Gandhi. Independent India's first extremist was a Hindu, his name is Nathuram Godse. There it (extremism, apparently) starts," he said.
Haasan said he was a "self-assumed great-grandson" of Gandhi and that he had come here "seeking answers for that murder," referring to Gandhi's assassination in 1948.
Haasan's comments drew sharp reactions with the state BJP unit approaching the Election Commission seeking action against him for alleged "gross violation" of the Model Code of Conduct and in New Delhi, Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharam saying he does not understand the difference between an assassin and a terrorist.
"It proves that he does not understand the difference between an assassin and a terrorist. An assassin is very different from a terrorist. Therefore if only he goes through the entire history and also follows up on the trial of Mahatma Gandhi he would know the difference," Sitharaman told a press conference.
She was responding to a question on Haasan's comments in Tamil that free India's first "terrorist" was a Hindu as he named Godse, who shot dead Mahatma Gandhi.
She added, "He is in a hurry to prove that he follows the same line of appeasing minorities for the sake of his newly launched venture."
Reacting strongly Tamil Nadu Minister K.T. Rajenthra Bhalaji, known for his outspoken remarks on various issues, said,"his tongue should be cut of..he has said (free India's first extremist) was a Hindu. Extremism has no religion, neither Hindu nor Muslim nor Christian."
Bhalaji, a senior AIADMK leader, also sought a ban on MNM for "sowing violence" and accused Haasan of "acting" to garner minority votes.
However, Haasan found support from the Congress and Dravidar Kazhagam.
TNCC President K.S. Alagiri said he concurred with Haasan "1000 per cent", while DK chief K. Veeramani said Godse trained with RSS.
Talking to reporters, Alagiri alleged that Hindu outfits like RSS "believe in destroying those with opposing views" and said, "I support him (Haasan) and concur with him, not just 100 percent, but 1000 percent."
Supporting Haasan, Veeramani, a strident critic of the BJP and Sangh Parivar, said "Not just that, even (Sadhvi) Pragya Singh Thakur is only out on bail," referring to BJPs Bhopal Lok Sabha candidate, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case.
BJP state President Tamilisai Soundararajan said the whole nation was shocked when Gandhi was killed and none can justify it, and that Godse was hanged for the "heinous" crime.
In a statement, she said it was "strongly condemnable" that Haasan used the phrase "Hindu extremism" in a Muslim-dominated area.
"Though he talks of taking forward a new kind of politics, he also indulged in the old,mischievous,poisonous and divisive vote bank politics" and his remarks amounted to inciting "communal violence", she added.
Soundararajan said Haasans remarks in a Muslim dominated area were "mischievous and agenda-driven."
"Therefore, such persons campaigning should be banned. Police should take action since there is an effort to create tension," she said.
Actor Vivek Oberoi slammed Haasans remarks, saying both art and terror "have no religion".
"Dear Kamal sir, you are a great artist. Just like art has no religion, terror has no religion either! You can say Godse was a terrorist, why would you specify Hindu ? Is it because you were in a Muslim dominated area looking for votes?," he asked in a tweet.
"Please sir, from a much smaller artist to a great one, lets not divide this country, we are one Jai Hind..#AkhandBharat #UnDividedIndia," he added.
Oberoi, who played Narendra Modi in a biopic on the Prime Minister, said no one "should divide the country."
Earlier too, Haasan had triggered a row, when in November 2017, he took potshots at what he termed as "Hindu extremism", which drew condemnation from the BJP and Hindu outfits.
Aravakurichi is one of the four Assembly constituencies where bypolls are scheduled on May 19. MNM has fielded S. Mohanraj from this segment.