The chief minister of India’s capital, Delhi, has raked up a controversy after he asked for new currency notes to be printed with images of Hindu deities.
Arvind Kejriwal urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to print photos of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha on rupee notes.
He said it would bring “economic prosperity” to the country.
His comments have drawn sharp criticism – he has been accused of pandering to Hindu voters ahead of key state polls.
The Aam Aadmi party (AAP), led by Mr Kejriwal, has been campaigning extensively in the states of Gujarat – a stronghold of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – and Himachal Pradesh where elections are due soon.
Fresh off a sweeping win in Punjab state earlier this year, the AAP is now eyeing wins in the two states – as well as in municipal elections in Delhi, where it hopes to defeat the BJP and emerge as an alternative to the Congress, India’s main opposition party.
Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, the AAP chief said this thought occurred to him while worshipping the two deities during the festival of Diwali on Monday.
“We need to put in all efforts to build the economy – build schools, hospitals, and strengthen our infrastructure. But our efforts will bear fruit only when we have the blessings of God upon us,” Mr Kejriwal said.
Adding that Goddess Lakshmi brings prosperity and Lord Ganesha removes hurdles, he said that he was not asking for all currency notes to be changed but only for fresh ones to be issued in future to bear the images of the deities.
The Delhi chief minister said that “Indonesia, which is a Muslim-majority country, prints currency notes with the picture of Lord Ganesha”.
“If Indonesia can do this, why not us? No one should have any objection.”
His remarks drew ridicule from political parties across the board. The Hindu nationalist BJP called it an attempt by AAP to hide its “ugly anti-Hindu face”.
“Arvind Kejriwal is doing political drama to divert the attention of the people of the country from the flaws of their government and the anti-Hindu mindset of the party,” BJP’ spokesperson Sambit Patra said.
The Congress said Mr Kejriwal’s statement was linked to “vote politics”.
On social media, many accused AAP of “hypocrisy” saying that the party had come to power promising an overhaul of the political system and a focus on development.
Mr Kejriwal has often said that his party believes in equality of all religions and justice for all. The AAP was seen by many as a breath of fresh air in a country where politics is mostly run on caste and religious divisions.
But many say the party is not following through on what it had promised.
Journalist Seema Pasha tweeted: “It’s our fault…we were so desperate for change that we didn’t see what we were electing.”
Defending Mr Kejriwal’s comment in a video statement, senior AAP leader Atishi Marlena said the plea to put these images on currency notes was not his alone, but it was the wish of India’s 1.3 billion people.
“You hate Arvind Kejriwal, but why hate Lakshmi and Ganesha? Why hate the prosperity of the country?” she posted on Twitter.
Her defence did not go down with many users of the micro-blogging platform who said the Aam Aadmi Party had been elected to provide good governance and not indulge in such gimmicks.