The attacks on African nationals in Greater Noida had triggered a debate on racism in India and whether the assaults themselves were racist in nature. While the Centre has maintained that the incidents could not be called racist yet, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Tarun Vijay on Friday stoked controversy with his remarks that have been widely construed as racist and discriminatory.

“If we [Indians] were racist, why would....all the entire South – you know, Kerala, Tamil, Andhra, Karnataka – why do we live with them?...We have people around us,” he said during a discussion on Al Jazeera on Thursday.

Although Vijay has apologised and tried to explain that his “badly-framed sentence” was being misunderstood, it comes as no surprise that his statement was not well-received by various quarters. While the Congress has grabbed the opportunity to accuse the BJP of first dividing the country on the basis of caste, and now on colour, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader TKS Elangovan displayed a remarkable lack of irony in his response.

Elangovan told ANI that he found Vijay’s comments “funny” because “not all people in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are black”. “Our leader Dr Kalaignar [M Karunanidhi] is fair, Jayalalithaa was fair,” he added.

Haryana Congress President Ashok Tanwar said, “Racism, communalism and BJP ideology go hand to hand. They speak what they think, and they always think destructive.” Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and senior Congress member Mallikarjun Kharge said, “BJP has a tendency to discriminate against the people of the country and against countries with whom we try to maintain relations.”

Social media did not spare the BJP leader either.

“Stupidity comes in all complexions,” said one Twitter user. Another said, “Despite all your pride in being fair/white, you have made a joke of yourself by making such a miscalculated statement.”

Others had the insight to point out that reacting to Vijay’s comment with “South Indians are not black” would be “completely missing the point” of the entire debate on racism in India. Some predicted that the BJP would dismiss Vijay’s comments as personal, like the party had done with several statements made by senior leader Subramanian Swamy.

NDTV reporter Sreenivasan Jain pointed out that it was “odd” for Vijay to make the comments, being “one of the few (only?) BJP leaders from North India who knows/promotes Tamil”.