Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Monday said that his statement comparing Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar with freedom fighter Bhagat Singh was a "throwaway remark in response to an audience comment" during his speech at the varsity on Sunday. Tharoor had addressed students outside JNU’s administrative hall, where he spoke on the sedition controversy and the nationalism debate.

Tharoor had said that the “biggest victims of the sedition law under the British were [Jawaharlal] Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Annie Besant”, at which point he was interrupted by a student who added Bhagat Singh to his list. Her interruption drew laughter from the audience and Tharoor himself, who then said, “Bhagat Singh was the Kanhaiya Kumar of his times.”

Clarifying his remark, Tharoor told ANI on Monday, “Bhagat Singh was a young man in his 20s with Marxist beliefs, who had great passion for his motherland. Kanhaiya [Kumar] has the same qualities.” The Congress leader added that Singh’s fight against colonial rule and Kumar fighting for his beliefs in a different democracy made “circumstances different”.

The Congress leader’s remark on Sunday drew sharp criticism on Twitter, with many deeming the comparison disrespectful. Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad downplayed the controversy, saying that no one can be compared with Bhagat Singh.

You can watch Tharoor's full speech at the university here: