Panaji: Dropping of Gandhi Jayanti from a list of government-endorsed holidays for commercial and industrial establishments in Goa sparked a nationwide controversy, forcing a reluctant BJP to call it a mistake, even as the Congress demanded an explanation from the union home ministry for the gaffe.
The notification dropping Gandhi Jayanti (October 2) from the list of holidays for "commercial and industrial" establishments was issued in September last year, but it suddenly became a subject of controversy on Saturday, with the Congress accusing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of insulting Mahatma Gandhi and sullying his image.
"This clearly shows the hidden agenda of the BJP government. This seems like it is just the beginning. Hope the government does not have holidays on Nathuram Godse's birth anniversary in the future," Congress spokesperson Durgadas Kamat told IANS.
Incidentally, while dropping Gandhi Jayanti as a holiday, the notification adds an additional holiday on occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi on September 18, making it two holidays in a row for the religious occasion.
"We want a probe into how this happened and want the holiday restored," Kamat said, adding that the Gandhi Jayanti holiday had been a permanent feature in the list of "commercial and industrial" holidays up to 2014.
It wasn't the opposition party alone which was demanding an explanation over the issue. BJP's own MLA and North Goa district president Michael Lobo too expressed dissent and disappointment with the decision to drop the Gandhi Jayanti holiday.
"I am shocked by this. You cannot disrespect the Father of the Nation ignoring all his contributions for India. This move is not fair. I will complain to the chief minister and deputy chief minister about this and demand restoration (of the holiday)," Lobo said.
Even as both the government and BJP's official spokespersons dodged media persons for a major part of the day, on Sunday evening Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar broke his silence on the issue, calling the content of the notification erroneous and blaming the Congress party for mischief.
"The government has no intention of dropping Gandhi Jayanti as a holiday. If it has happened it was either by mistake or mischief by the Congress. There is an election (zilla panchayat) election in Goa, the Congress will go to any level to create a controversy," Parsekar told reporters.
Narendra Savoikar, BJP MP from South Goa, also tried to clear the air, taking to the social media to comment on the issue.
"The government of Goa's official calendar for the year 2015 published in January shows October 2 as public holiday. Unnecessary, unsubstantiated controversy," Savoikar said on Facebook, even uploading an image of the Goa government's official calendar for October on his timeline.
The department for Information and Publicity too issued a statement after the chief minister's interaction with the media.
"The government of Goa has today (Sunday) clarified that Gandhi Jayanti holiday (October 2, 2015) has not been cancelled. The official calendars of the government have already listed Gandhi Jayanti as a holiday," the statement said.
But the Congress has rejected this defence.
"What we are claiming is that Gandhi Jayanti has been dropped from the "commercial and industrial" holidays, not from the list of government holidays," Kamat said.
The Congress has also threatened to take the issue to parliament now, with Congress Rajya Sabha MP Shantaram Naik demanding an explanation from union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
"The BJP has insulted the Father of the Nation. Since the it is a question which involves Mahatma Gandhi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh should make a statement," Naik said, adding that he would raise the issue in parliament on Monday.