New Delhi: The replacement of Mahatma Gandhi's photographs with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's in Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC)'s annual calendar and diary on Friday kicked off a political storm. While the opposition strongly condemned the move, the BJP and the government sought to defend it citing laws.
IANS on Thursday reported about Modi's picture spinning the charkha donning the cover page of the KVIC calendar and diary, instead of the iconic picture of Gandhi weaving khadi on a simple charkha, wearing his trademark loin cloth.
Modi, already facing heat over the move to demonetise higher denomination notes, was on Friday the subject of ridicule not just from the opposition but also from Mahatma's great-grandson Tushar Gandhi.
Among the first to mock the move was Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi.
Posting the IANS story on Twitter, Gandhi said "The Mangalayaan effect", referring to his earlier jibe at Modi for taking the credit after India's successful launch of the Mars Orbiter Mission or the Mangalyaan.
The opposition parties were unsparing in slamming the move, asserting that the 'Father of the Nation' was irreplaceable.
Terming replacement of Gandhi's photo as "sacrilegious", Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: "Obsession bordering on narcissism has unfortunately become the hallmark of the Prime Minister."
The Communist Party of India-Marxist accused the Prime Minister of lowering the esteem of his office, while the Communist Party of India dubbed the move "atrocious". Other opposition parties including the Trinamool Congress and the Janata Dal-United too came out with scathing attacks.
Even BJP's ally Shiv Sena criticised the move, with party MP Anand Adsul saying "replacing Bapu's picture is a grave sin".
Another Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant termed the incident to be "an example of what can happen when a person is so very 'self-centred' and obsessed".
An outraged Tushar Gandhi said the move was an attempt to "snatch" Mahatma's legacy and called for disbanding the KVIC.
"This a mere photo prop. No matter how much they pretend, they do not believe in Gandhian ideology. So there is no question of sincerity. This is just a desperate attempt to snatch Mahatma's legacy," Tushar Gandhi told IANS.
He blamed the KVIC for turning khadi, a symbol of empowerment, into a "helpless fabric".
"Replacing Bapu's photo from KVIC Calendar and diary with million Rs suit loving PM's is a tongue in cheek taunt by ministry," Gandhi earlier said on Twitter, referring to Modi's pin-striped suit, with his name monogrammed on it, that had fetched several million rupees in auction.
The Utkal Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, a Gandhian institution from Odisha, accused the KVIC of "adopting the footprints of Gandhiji's killer".
In a letter to Modi, the institution's chairman Prahallad Kumar Sinha, said the act of "sycophancy" by the KVIC has hurt millions who love and respect Gandhiji and his values.
"However, an institution of the central government led by BJP, instead of spreading Gandhian values, is adopting footprints of Gandhiji's killer in replacing his photographs," wrote Sinha.
Amid the growing criticism and ridicule, KVIC chairman Vinay Kumar Saxena as well as the government and the BJP sought to defend the move or downplay the issue.
"There is no rule or precedence prescribing that photo of Mahatma Gandhi has to be on the cover page. His photos were not there in calendars in 1996, 2002, 2005, 2011, 2013 and 2016. We have not flouted any laws," said Saxena.
He described Modi to be the "biggest ambassador" for Khadi and claimed that due to the Prime Ministers' personal appeal, the sale of the khadi fabric has "substantially" gone up since 2015.
Saxena also said Modi's picture on the cover page, "showcased the government's commitment towards khadi at the highest level".
Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Sambit Patra flayed the opposition for politicising the issue.
"There is no rule to have Mahatma Gandhi's image as the cover picture," said Patra and pointed to the years when Gandhi's photos were not used.
He claimed that sales of khadi under the Modi government have expanded to 35 per cent from 7 per cent in 2014.