Shah also said the Congress was not rooted in any ideology or principles and was sort of a "special purpose vehicle" to secure freedom.
BJP chief Amit Shah dubbed Mahatma Gandhi as a "bahut chatur baniya", a reference to his mercantile caste, sparking a political row with the Congress and other opposition parties demanding an apology from him for insulting the Father of the Nation.
Shah made the reference to the mercantile caste to which Gandhi was born while telling a select audience of "prominent citizens" in Raipur yesterday how the "bahut chatur baniya" (very shrewd baniya) had rightly advised dissolution of the Congress after Independence.
Shah had also said the Congress was not rooted in any ideology or principles and was sort of a "special purpose vehicle" to secure freedom.
Facing flak, Shah today said the import of his comments was heard by the people who were present at yesterday's gathering.
"Maine jis reference me kaha hai waha sab logo ne suna, Surjewala ji ko abhi Gandhiji ke bahut sare siddhanto ka jawab dena hai. (Those present during the programme heard my comments and the reference in which they were made. AICC spokesperson Randeep Surjewala is yet to answer about many principles of Gandhi ji)," Shah told a press conference in Raipur when asked about AICC spokesperson Randeep Surjewala's demand for his apology over the remark.
Leading the opposition charge, Surjewala demanded an apology from Shah, BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.Must Watch: A Look at BJP Chief Amit Shah’s nationwide tour
Calling Shah a "trader of power", Surjewala said his remarks were "an insult to freedom fighters, their sacrifices and also to Gandhi."
While West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee termed the comments "uncalled for and unethical", CPI general secretary S Sudhakar Reddy demanded that Shah tender an apology for making the "derogatory" remarks.
Former CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat also hit out at Shah, saying his remark reveals "the contempt the BJP-RSS has for Gandhiji."
At yesterday's event, Shah had said, "the Congress party... was constituted as a club by a British man. It was later converted into an organisation engaged in freedom struggle."
It had in its fold both right and left-leaning people like Maulana Azad, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and many others, he said.
"People of various ideologies and thinking associated themselves with Congress to gain independence. Congress didn't have any ideology or set of principles and it was only used as a special purpose vehicle to secure freedom.
"And therefore, Mahatma Gandhi, with a lot of foresight -- he was a very shrewd baniya -- he knew what was going to happen in future. He had said immediately after the Independence that Congress should be dissolved."
Mahatma Gandhi couldn't do that, but now some people are completing the task of dissolution of Congress, the BJP chief added, in an apparent jibe at the present Congress leadership.
"Rather than fighting casteism, they (BJP) identified even the Father of the Nation with his caste. This shows the character and ideology of the ruling party and its president.
Where will these people take the country?" Surjewala asked.
"We demand that Amit Shah, BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologise to the country, the families of freedom fighters and every citizen for insulting the freedom movement... and the father of the nation," Surjewala told reporters in Delhi.
In a hard-hitting response, Surjewala alleged that "Amit Shah, who himself is a trader of power, is today saying that the freedom movement was a business model. But in reality, before independence, Britishers used RSS and Hindu Mahasabha as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for partition of the country."
He also said, "similarly, today BJP is acting as a SPV for few corporates for taking care of their business interests."
According to the Congress leader, Shah's remarks were "an insult to freedom fighters, their sacrifices and also to Gandhi".
CPI national secretary D Raja said Shah, being president of the ruling party, should be aware of the language to be used while describing a leader of Gandhi's stature.
"We have no problem when he criticises Congress or other opposition parties (during political discourse). But dragging Mahatma Gandhi's name, using such a language is denigrating
Gandhi," Raja said.
According to Karat, Shah only revealed the BJP's actual opinion about Gandhi.
"Such a comment on the father of the nation is highly condemnable. Shah has crossed limits of politics," said Chattisgarh state Congress general secretary Shailesh Nitin Trivedi.
Talking about other issues, Shah said that among the 1,650 political parties in India, only the BJP and the Communist Party of India have upheld internal democracy.
"There are some parties where only dynastic rule prevails. It was clear that after Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi would take over, but nobody can predict who would be the next BJP president after me," Shah said.
Referring to alleged anti-national slogans raised in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Shah said whoever does so will be termed as anti-national.
Shah, who is on a visit to Chhattisgarh since June 8, has interacted with MPs, MLAs, BJP office-bearers and booth representatives in a bid to strengthen the party ahead of the next year's Assembly polls in the state and 2019 parliamentary elections.