Facing flak over his remarks that life-threatening diseases were a result of past sins, Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Thursday tried to explain away saying he was only referring to the "karmic law" of Hinduism.
The minister also said he did not know whether Hindu philosophy can be discussed at all in the Congress, hitting back at P Chidambaram for his tweet against him yesterday which said "that is what switching parties does to a person".
Sarma, who was with the Congress earlier, had joined the BJP in August 2015.
Taking to social media, the minister tried to get back at Chidambaram by referring to his quitting the Congress in 1996. He also mentioned Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi's pet, saying "After all #Pidi likes privileged people".
"Sir, please do not distort. Simply I said that Hinduism believes in karmic law and human sufferings are linked to karmic deficiency of past life. Don't you believe that too? Of course in your party I do not know whether Hindu philosophy can be discussed at all.
"By the way sir when did you rejoin @INCIndia ? As far as I know you were in Tamil Maanila Congress. Privileged people can indulge in any activity right from Chit Fund to Inxmedia, can switch party. After all #Pidi likes privileged people," said the Assam minister.
Sarma's remarks that some people suffer from life- threatening diseases such as cancer because of sins committed in the past and that it is "divine justice" have sparked sharp reactions.
"God makes us suffer when we sin. Sometimes we come across young men getting inflicted with cancer or young men meeting with accidents. If you observe the background you will come to know that it's divine justice. Nothing else. We have to suffer that divine justice," he had said at a function where appointment letters were distributed to teachers here yesterday.
The Assam minister today posted several tweets on the issue.
"You have to realise difference between sin and karma. Politics can come and go. But what is written in Bhagavadgita is for me the final truth.
"Not arguing with anyone. Only availing a huge opportunity to speak little bit about Hindu philosophy. We accept that even Lord Krishna died because of karmic deficiency. That is our philosophy," he said.
Responding to a journalist's tweet that laws of karma should not be used to explain cancer in today's day and age, he tweeted, "Was my speech on cancer? Who told you? I simply asked a new batch of teachers to work sincerely & work for the poor.
"In that context I argue that if we do not work sincerely in next life we might face karmic deficiency & that may lead to sufferings. What is insensitive about this?"
He went on to add, "Go through my speech. I never said that sin causes cancer. It was a speech to motivate teachers to serve the poor or otherwise you may face karmic deficiency and suffer in next life. Science cannot promote human value. Religion might."
Assam Congress leader Debabratta Saikia criticised Sarma's statement. "It is unfortunate that the health minister has made such a remark on cancer patients hurting their feelings. As he has made the remark publicly, the minister should also apologise for it publicly," he said.
AIUDF leader Aminul Islam asserted that the health minister made the remark to cover his failure to control the spread of cancer in the state.
"He (Sarma) has given up, he can't control," he said.
Some cancer patients said they were saddened by the health minister's remarks at a time when it is an established medical fact that there are scientific reasons and various other parameters responsible for the disease.
B B Borthakur, the medical superintendent at the state- run Dr B Barooah Cancer Institute, sought to downplay Sarma's remarks.
"I don't think the minister made the remark on scientific basis but in a social context. I don't think it is a matter to be made into a controversy. It is not a matter to be given so much importance," he told PTI.