BJP MLC Gopichand Padalkar on Wednesday said NCP chief Sharad Pawar is a "corona" that has infected Maharashtra, drawing an acerbic retort from the ruling coalition party.
The NCP swiftly hit back at the BJP over Padalkar's objectionable comments and said everyday leaders from the opposition party make some or the other statements which better be not taken seriously.
Padalkar also accused Pawar of doing politics over the long-pending issue of reservation for the Dhangar (shepherd) community.
Addressing a press conference at Pandharpur in Solapur district, Padalkar, who hails from the Dhangar community, alleged that the "bahujan samaj" has been suffering because of the policies of Pawar, whose party is a key constituent in the Shiv Sena-led MVA government.
"According to me, Sharad Pawar is the 'corona' that has infected the state. Pawar has always taken steps that would hamper the prospects of masses," he sai.
"I do not think he (Pawar) is positive about the Dhangar reservation," the MLC said.
The previous government had announced a Rs 1,000 crore package for the Dhangar community, but it could not be implemented as Devendra Fadnavis had to forgo power due to "backstabbing".
"But, the present government has not given a single penny so far from that package," said Padalkar. "Once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, we will stage a statewide agitation over our various demands," he said.
In Mumbai, Maharashtra Minister and NCP's national spokesperson Nawab Malik slammed the BJP over Padalkar's attack on Pawar and said such statements should not be taken seriously.
Hitting out at Padalkar, another NCP leader and Social Justice Minister Dhananjay Munde said Padalkar's intention was to gain name and fame in politics by criticising the leader of the stature like Pawar.
Padalkar, who had joined the BJP ahead of the 2019 Assembly election, lost his deposit to NCP's Ajit Pawar in Baramati constituency.
Dismissing Padalkar's allegation that Pawar had committed atrocities against "Bahujan" people in the state, Munde said the NCP chief changed the lives of the community members for the better.
Another NCP spokesperson Clyde Crasto took a dig at Padalkar with a cartoon, which depicts the BJP's symbol lotus as being the puppet master which pulled the strings as the BJP MLC made the remark.
NCP Pune unit spokesperson Ankush Kakde condemned Padalkar's "undeserving" comment against Pawar, and said the party will stage an agitation in the city on Thursday against the MLC's remarks.
Meanwhile, members of the NCP's youth wing, led by its state unit head Mehboob Sheikh, staged a protest in Beed, central Maharashtra, against Padalkar. They hit Padalkar's poster with footwear and set it on fire.
Later, senior BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis on Wednesday said Padalkar's remarks are not appropriate but an emotional outburst. "Making such remarks against senior leaders is not appropriate," the former chief minister told reporters in Solapur.
"I had a word with Padalkar. I told him that though Pawar saheb is our political opponent he is not our enemy. I told him that forget Pawar saheb, making such remarks against any senior leader is not appropriate.
"If anyone wants to express his opposition, it should be done using appropriate words," said Fadnavis, who is the Leader of Opposition in the state Legislative Assembly.
Fadnavis said Padalkar had accepted that it was an emotional outburst against Pawar.
"Padalkar said he will give a clarification. He has accepted... Young leaders from all parties should exercise restraint while speaking," he added.