Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra on Saturday called actors Shabana Azmi and Naseeruddin Shah and lyricist Javed Akhtar part of the “sleeper cell of tukde tukde gang”.

Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi have often described their opponents and dissidents of being members of the “tukde tukde” gang – a group trying to divide India. However, in response to a Right to Information plea in January, the Union home ministry had said that it had no information about such a group.

At a press conference on Saturday, Mishra made the comment on the three eminent cinema personalities while responding to Azmi’s recent statement that the release of 11 life-term convicts in the Bilkis Bano rape case was shameful.

“People like Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah and Javed Akhtar are the agents of sleeper cell of Tukde-Tukde gang who create ruckus only on incidents that happen in BJP-ruled states,” Mishra said.

The Madhya Pradesh minister also questioned why Azmi had not made any comments about the killing of a tailor in Rajasthan and a woman being burnt alive in Jharkhand.

On June 28 Kanhaiya Lal, a tailor in Udaipur was killed after he had allegedly shared a social media post supporting suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma who had made disparaging comments about Prophet Muhammed during a debate on television. The assailants filmed the killing.

Last week, a minor girl in Jharkhand’s Dumka died after she was burnt alive by her stalker after she rejected his marriage proposal.

Mishra said that Azmi did not comment on these crimes as they took place in states ruled by the Opposition parties.

In an interview to NDTV on Thursday, Azmi had broken down while speaking about the release of the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case.

“I have no words except that I am deeply ashamed. I have no other words,” Azmi said. “Should we not fight for her? Shouldn’t we be shouting from the rooftops so that justice is done to this person? And the women who are feeling unsafe in this country, women who face the threat of rape everyday – shouldn’t they get some sense of security? What can I say to Bilkis? I am ashamed.”

On August 15, the convicts were released from a Godhra jail after the Gujarat government approved their application under its remission policy. On the same day, the convicts were greeted with sweets by their relatives after their release. A member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh felicitated them as well.

Their release was based on the recommendation of a panel formed by the Gujarat government under the guidelines of the Supreme Court. Out of the ten members of the panel, five are office bearers in the BJP. Two of them are currently MLAs.

The 11 men had gangraped Bano in a village near Ahmedabad on March 3, 2002, during the riots in Gujarat. She was 19 and pregnant at the time. Fourteen members of her family were also killed in the violence, including her three-year-old daughter whose head was smashed on the ground by the perpetrators.

The release of the 11 convicts has been challenged in the Supreme Court. Last week the top court directed that the convicts in the case be made party in the plea challenging the Gujarat government’s decision to grant them remission.