Ahead of the bypolls for 28 Assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh, Congress leader Kamal Nath's use of 'item' word for Madhya Pradesh Minister and Dalit leader Imarti Devi has generated political heat and led to condemnation by BJP leaders apart from BSP leader Mayawati.
It comes in the wake of "coming from a hungry and ill-clad family" remarks used by another Congress leader Dinesh Gurjar for Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
While campaigning in Dabra segment in Gwalior district on Sunday, Kamal Nath had allegedly called Imarti Devi an 'item', making the BJP turn aggressive and trying to derive political mileage from the situation even as the Congress accused BJP of trying to misinterpret certain words.
The process of filing of nominations for the Assembly seats, which will go to polls on November 3, has since been completed and both parties are now in full campaigning mode.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said that Kamal Nath's remark against the Minister was symptomatic of "petty mentality".
"Imarti Devi is a daughter of a farmer who began doing labour in her village and has since emerged as a public representative in building the nation. First, the Congress called me 'hungry and ill-clad' and now she has been called an 'item'. This shows the feudal mindset of Kamal Nath," the Chief Minister said.
BJP MP and former Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia said that "calling a woman coming from a poor labourer family an item and 'jalebi' by another Congress leader Ajay Singh was both condemnable and objectionable.
"Kamal Nath's comments reflect his thinking towards Dalits and women. Similarly, Digvijay Singh had used such remarks against party leader Meenakshi Natarajan."
BJP state unit President Vishnudatt Sharma too flayed the remarks as "shameful", particularly against a woman when the country was celebrating Navratras.
"Kamal Nath has insulted the womanhood by calling the Minister an item," Sharma alleged.
In Lucknow, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati too jumped into the controversy and demanded on Monday that the Congress leadership should issue a public apology for the remark against a Dalit woman.
She said the remark was "objectionable". "The remarks made by a former Chief Minister against a Dalit woman candidate in Dabra (Reserve) Assembly segment is highly shameful and needs to be condemned. The Congress leadership should take note and issue a public apology," the former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister tweeted.
She appealed to the Dalit voters to teach a lesson to the Congress in the by-elections in Madhya Pradesh and vote for her BSP to ensure that such incidents don't occur in future.
On the other hand, Kamal Nath said the BJP was indulging in a "false propaganda" regarding his remarks.
"I did use the word 'item', but it is not an insulting word. I am also an item, you are also an item. In this sense, we all are items. During legislative proceedings, we use words like 'item numbers'. When the state's people are in a pathetic condition, the BJP instead of wiping their tears is making an issue out of consumption of a beverage by me. Is it a public issue? Are the people's lives connected with this?" the Congress leader and former Chief Minister remarked.
Political observers feel that issues which have nothing to do with the general masses are given a political colour to influence voters, in the absence of discussion on real issues affecting them.
The BJP will not let go of the chance to use the 'hungry and ill-clad' and 'item' remarks to its advantage by making these as 'rich vs poor' and 'Dalit' and 'women' issues ahead of the by-elections.