Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Thursday apologised to those hurt by the controversy surrounding his remark that cancer is “divine justice” for sinning. Sarma said the furore that followed his comment was an “absolutely mindless controversy” triggered by desperate political rivals.

“I reiterate at no point my statement was intended to cause any pain to cancer patients,” the minister said. “However, if owing to the blatant distortions, it has caused any anxiety and problems to anyone, I hereby offer my unconditional apology for the pain.”

Former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram was among those who criticised the minister for his remark.

Insisting that he was being quoted out of context, Sarma said “a philosophical discourse designed purely to help poor students” was being misused. This, he added, was “causing avoidable anxiety among surviving cancer patients and their close ones”.

“Detachment from life, karmic action and rebirth are some of the core principles of Hindu philosophy developed over past 5,000 years,” the state health minister said. “Western thought process can never dominate or dilute the spirit and eternal meaning of our philosophy.”

Sarma said he had lost his father, best friends and relatives to the disease, and that everyone in Assam and outside knew of his passion to “work on containing cancer through best possible cancer treatment facilities...”