Nationalist Congress Party leader Jitendra Awhad on Thursday expressed regret for a comment he made earlier this week referring to the Hindu deity Ram as a “non-vegetarian” but said that his statement was factual, reported ANI.

“I did not want to hurt the public’s sentiments,” Awhad, a former Minister of Housing in Maharashtra, told reporters.

Awhad, who is aligned with the Sharad Pawar faction of the Nationalist Congress Party, made the comments at a party function in Ahmednagar’s Shirdi city on Wednesday.

“Lord Ram was a king of Bahujans and a non-vegetarian,” Awhad said there. “Ram was never a vegetarian. He was a non-vegetarian. How can a man who lived in the jungle for 14 years remain a vegetarian?”

The comment has drawn criticism from the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“What proof does Jitendra Awhad have to show lord Ram ate non-vegetarian food?” asked BJP MLA from Ghatkopar Ram Kadam, reported The Indian Express. “Had he gone to see that? At a time when the temple is being inaugurated, he has disrespected the emotions of crores of devotees of Lord Ram,” said Kadam.

Kadam also filed a police complaint against the former minister on Thursday.

Awhad’s comment came on the same day Kadam wrote to Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde demanding that January 22 – the day Ram Janmabhoomi temple’s consecration ceremony will be held in Ayodhya – be declared as a dry day in the state along with a day-long ban on non-vegetarian food.

Despite the backlash, Awhad maintained that his statement was factual.

“A systematic attempt is being made to make Ram a vegetarian,” he said, according to The Indian Express. “Over 80% people of this country are non-vegetarian and they are devotees of lord Ram.”

Meanwhile, Awhad told reporters to read specific portions of the Hindu epic Ramayana to understand his point.

“Making a logical, academic comment on the topic is one thing and hurting public feelings is another,” he said, according to ANI. “There should be a debate on this topic [Ram’s diet] with respect for public sentiment. But from now until January 22 all discussion around this topic will be emotional, not logical.”

Satyendra Das, the head priest of the Shri Ram Janambhoomi Teerth Kshetra in Ayodhya, said that Awhad’s comments are “completely false”, reported the Hindustan Times.

“It isn’t written anywhere in our scriptures that lord Ram had non-vegetarian food during his exile,” Das said. “It’s written that he used to have fruits.”