There is “no rule or tradition” that only Mahatma Gandhi’s photo can be used on our calendars or the cover of our diaries, said Chairman of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission VK Saxena. His statement comes amid controversy over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s picture replacing Gandhi’s on the KVIC 2017 calendar.

“Is Gandhiji’s stature so small that he can be replaced so easily ? This whole controversy is unnecessary and out of the context,” Saxena told PTI. He pointed out the Gandhi’s photo had not been used in the 2002, 2005, 2011, 2013 and 2016 editions of KVIC products.

Saxena further defended the use of Modi’s photo, saying the prime minister’s appeal had boosted the sale of khadi and as a result, helped lakhs of khadi weavers. “During the last 10 years, the growth rate of khadi sale was around 2% to 7%...It went up to 34% in 2015-16,” he said. “This has had a direct impact on the lives of spinners, who are now getting sufficient work because of this sudden increase in demand.”

Opposition leaders, too, had reacted to news of Modi’s photo replacing Gandhi’s. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, “Gandhiji is the father of the nation. Modiji is what?” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala had said, “Removing Gandhiji’s photo is a sacrilegious sin.”

Workers had demanded a reprint of the KVIC calendar and diary after they were published with an image of Modi spinning a charkha. “We simply want to know why Gandhiji has not been given the space here.”

A senior official of the commission had said that the decision to print Modi’s picture was made to “commemorate the historical moment” when the prime minister had distributed 500 charkhas among women in Ludhiana in October 2016.