New Delhi, Oct 15 (PTI) Congress leader Udit Raj stoked a controversy on Thursday by tweeting that "it was wrong" on the part of the Uttar Pradesh government to spend Rs 4,200 crore in organising the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, with the BJP alleging the opposition party now wants the religious fair to be closed.
Following a row over his comment, Raj deleted the tweet but later restored it saying his party should not be involved in the issue as it was his personal opinion.
"No religious teachings and rituals to be funded by the government. The state doesn't have its religion. UP government spent Rs 4200 crore in organising the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad and that too was wrong," the former MP and Congress spokesperson wrote on the microblogging site.
In another tweet in Hindi, Raj said he has only reiterated what BJP leader and Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had said that religion should not be encouraged through the state expenses.
Seeking to explain his opinion, Raj said he was only airing the views of Bhim Rao Ambedkar and questioned those opposing him.
"Dr Ambedkar had expressed such a view and I only presented the same that religion should not be mixed with politics. I did not know that your vision was to garner votes by spreading such division," he said.
Udit Raj's tweet evoked sharp reaction from the BJP, with ruling party spokesperson Sambit Patra alleging the Congress had earlier termed Lord Rama as "imaginary" and is "now bent upon shutting down the Kumbh Mela".
"Friends, this is the truth of the Gandhi family... Earlier, they gave an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying 'Lord Rama is imaginary... He has no existence' and now Priyanka Vadra Ji says that Kumbh Mela should also be closed. That's why the world says Rahul and Priyanka are "opportunistic" Hindus," he tweeted in Hindi.
The Dalit Congress leader, who was earlier an MP from Delhi, also said, "It is fine as long as the BJP misuses religion to garner votes. When Yogi Adityanath got the cremation of a Dalit girl done at night against Hindu traditions, where were the so-called protectors of the religion." He also alleged that those opposing him now also did not like Ambedkar's views and had insulted him. Raj said they only think those Dalits "who are deaf and dumb are only wise".
His tweet came in response to the remarks of Himanta Biswa Sarma who said the study of religious scriptures at the cost of the state will not be allowed in Assam and the government was shutting madrasas and would convert them into regular schools.
When asked by PTI whether he wanted the Kumbh Mela to be closed, Raj said, "It was only a coincidence that I cited the Kumbh in response to what Sarma had said. I agree with Sarma and cited the constitutional provisions that no religion should be funded by the state. It is a misinterpretation by the BJP. I never called for closing the Kumbh Mela." Hitting out at Raj, Uttar Pradesh Minister Sidharth Nath Singh said the BJP government in the state takes pride in organising the Kumbh Mela and it would organise an even better fair the next time and spend double the amount.
"There is no need for the BJP to answer the question Udit Raj has raised. That question needs to be answered by Priyanka Vadra or the Congress party on whether a government should spend money on the Kumbh or not.
"As far as the BJP is concerned, we are proud to have spent money in organising the Kumbh and making it grand. When the Kumbh comes again, there should be no doubt that if required, we will spend double the amount in organising it," Singh said.