The Congress on Monday asked Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari when he would thrash those who discuss the caste of Hindu deity Hanuman. On Sunday, Gadkari allegedly told residents in Pimpri Chinchwad, Maharashtra, that he would thrash them if they talk about caste.

The Congress’ Madhya Pradesh unit interpreted the remark as a “direct attack” on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“BJP leader Nitin Gadkari has spoken against his party’s fundamental policy,” the party tweeted, sharing a news report about the minister’s statement. “Gadkari ji, when will you thrash those who seek votes by talking about Hanuman’s caste?”

In election rallies in November and December, some BJP leaders had speculated about Hanuman’s caste and religion. The first to do so was Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, who suggested that the mythological character was Dalit. One legislator claimed Hanuman was Muslim, and a state minister said the Hindu deity was Jat.

On Sunday, Gadkari said society should be brought together on the basis of economic and social equality, and there should be no scope for casteism and communalism, PTI reported.

“We do not believe in any casteism,” he said. “I do not know what do you have but there is no place for castiesm in our five districts because I have warned everybody that if someone talks about caste, I will thrash him.” The remark about thrashing people was made in a lighter vein, reports said.

Some recent remarks by Nitin Gadkari have been interpreted as statements made against Narendra Modi. On February 4, Congress President Rahul Gandhi praised him for being the “only one in the BJP with some guts”, but Gadkari told him he does not need his certificate for his strength.