Facing the heat from the opposition as well as her party over her “Nathuram Godse is a patriot” remark, BJP's Bhopal Lok Sabha seat candidate and Malegaon blast accused Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur tendered an apology on Thursday night and said she respected Mahatma Gandhi as his work for the country cannot be forgotten.
"My sentiment was not to hurt anyone's feelings. If it has hurt anybody's feelings then I apologise. What Gandhi ji has done for the country cannot be forgotten. I respect him a lot," she said in a video statement.
She said she made the comments on the spur of moment to a question linked to "saffron terror" and claimed that the media twisted them.
Asked about the BJP terming her remarks as her personal views, she agreed and added that she was a disciplined worker of the party. She said her party's line is her line.
Thakur lauded Mahatma Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse as a "patriot", sparking an outrage from the Opposition with the Congress alleging that "insulting martyrs is in the DNA" of BJP, which also condemned her remarks.
"Nathuram Godse was a deshbhakt (patriot), he is and will remain a deshbhakt. Those calling him a terrorist should instead look at themselves. They will be given a befitting reply in this election," the controversial leader said in Agar Malwa in Madhya Pradesh while attending a roadshow.
She was replying to a question over actor-politician Kamal Haasan's remark that independent India's first "extremist was a Hindu", a reference to Godse.
Her remarks created a major row with the opposition parties attacking her and the BJP with the NCP saying people can now see the "real face" of the Amit Shah-led party and the Congress demanding an apology from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP immediately got into damage control and distanced itself from Thakur's statement and asked her to tender a public apology, which she did.
Earlier, condemning her comments, BJP spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao in a statement said,"We completely disagree with her statement with regard to Mahatma Gandhi. We strongly condemn this statement. The party will seek clarification from her as to why she gave this. It would be proper for her to seek and tender a public apology for her objectionable statement."
Attacking the BJP and Thakur, Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said,"it is clear, the BJP people are the descendants of Godse. BJP people say Godse was a patriot and martyr Hemant Karkare was a traitor. Culture of violence and insulting martyrs is the DNA of the BJP."
"Modi-Amit Shah ji's favourite BJP leader, Pragya Thakur once again insulted the whole nation by calling Gandhi's killer, Nathuram Godse 'a true patriot'," he said in a statement.
Maharashtra NCP chief Jayant Patil tweeted that Godse, who has murdered Mahatma Gandhi, is being defended by Thakur and is being called a patriot.
People can now see BJP's real face through Sadhvi Pragya, he further said.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah attacked Thakur and tweeted, "If the killer of the father of the nation is a patriot does that make Mahatma Gandhi anti-national?" though he did not name Thakur.
BJP leader Hitesh Bajpai, speaking on her behalf, had earlier said that "Pragyaji has apologised for her statement."
When asked whether she has apologised to the state BJP chief, he said, "That is not an issue, but she has apologised and took back her statement."
Meanwhile, the election commission has asked the state chief electoral officer to submit a "factual report" by tomorrow about Thakur's remarks.
This is the second time in a month that Thakur has apologised for a controversial statement made by her.
Last month, she had stoked a controversy when she said that IPS officer Hemant Karkare had died during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks as she had "cursed" him for torturing her. Later, she apologised and took back her controversial remark.
Thakur was also temporarily banned from campaigning for her hate remarks.
Condemning her statement, senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said in Ujjain that praising Godse was not patriotism, but an "anti-national" act.
"Narendra Modi ji, Amit Shah ji and BJP leaders from Madhya Pradesh should apologise to the country. I condemn the words used against the Father of the Nation. Nathuram Godse was a killer and eulogising him is not patriotism, but an anti-national act," the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister told reporters in Ujjain.
PDP president and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said, "Gandhi ji certainly didn't die to let history repeat itself. The BJP should be ashamed for endorsing a candidate who praised Bapu's assassin. He (Godse) was a terrorist and those who admire him are nothing else but Nathuram Godse 2.0 in the making."
Mehbooba said she took pride in being called an "anti-national" when Godse is hailed as a nationalist.
"I take pride in being called an anti-national when a Hindu fanatic who gunned down Gandhi ji is hailed as a nationalist. Aisi nationalism aur desh bhakti humaray bas ki naheen. Yeh aapko mubarak ( I am not capable of such nationalism. You. May keep it), " she added.
Both CPI and CPI (M) also criticised Thakur for her controversial.
"It's a fact that Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated and the incident was a well-planned one to spread hatred, create fear and to send out a message. This assassination was carried out by Nathuram Godse. If BJP thinks Godse was patriot then what was Mahatma Gandhi?" CPI leader D Raja said.
Kamal Haasan, while addressing an election campaign rally at Aravakurichi (Tamil Nadu) on May 12, had said, "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."
(With PTI inputs)