Indian Overseas Congress Chairman Sam Pitroda on Friday accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of distorting his quotes about the Congress party’s alleged role in the 1984 anti-Sikh violence, and said he acknowledged the pain of the Sikh community. The BJP, meanwhile, sought an apology from Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi, and said Pitroda’s clarification was more objectionable than his initial statement.

A video clip of an interview tweeted by BJP leaders showed Pitroda responding to a question about the violence with the sentence, “Hua to hua [it happened, so what?].”

The video clip was of an exchange between an ANI reporter and Pitroda on Thursday. The reporter asked Pitroda about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had ordered the violence in 1984 after two Sikh bodyguards assassinated his mother Indira Gandhi.

Pitroda responded: “I don’t think so, this is also another lie. You keep telling lies every day. And what is with 1984? You tell about what happened in five years [of Bharatiya Janata Party’s rule]. It happened in 1984, so what? What have you done? You were voted to create jobs, you didn’t create jobs. You were voted to create 200 smart cities, you didn’t do that either.”

BJP President Amit Shah tweeted the video, saying that the agony and suffering of the Sikh community had been summed up in what Pitroda said. Shah also added the hashtag #MurdererCongress. Union minister Arun Jaitley called Pitroda’s remarks a disgrace and “reflective of the lack of remorse” on Congress’ part.

Pitroda’s clarification and BJP’s reaction

In his clarification on Friday morning, Pitroda wrote: “I have noticed how BJP is again twisting three words from my interview to distort facts, divide us and hide their failures. Sad that they have nothing positive to offer.”

He said: “I acknowledged the pain of my Sikh brothers and sisters during difficult times in 1984 and deeply feel for the atrocities that happened. But these are things from past that are not really relevant to this election which is all about what did Modi government do for the last five years. Rajiv Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi will never target a group of people based on creed.”

Pitroda further said: “BJP is talking about these issues and attacking Congress leaders with lies because they can not talk about their performance and have no vision to take India forward to inclusively growth and prosperity for all with focus on jobs, kids and more jobs. Truth is being distorted, lies are being amplified through social media and targeted People are systematically being intimidated. However, truth will always prevail and lies will be exposed. It is just a matter of time.”

Pitroda also wrote a string of tweets praising Rajiv Gandhi’s contribution to science and technology.

BJP leader and Union minister Prakash Javadekar tweeted a video response to Pitroda’s clarification: “If you understand their pain, why are you rubbing salt on their wounds? How can you say the issue is not relevant if the Sikhs have not got justice yet?”

Javadekar also mentioned a quote in which Rajiv Gandhi had appeared to justify the violence by saying that the earth shakes when a big tree falls.

The Bharatiya Janata Party had on Thursday, citing the Nanavati Commission’s inquiry, claimed that “instructions to kill” members of the Sikh community during the violence in 1984 had come from Rajiv Gandhi’s office.

The violence against Sikhs in early November 1984 had followed the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. However, the 2005 Nanavati Commission report said there was “absolutely no evidence” that Rajiv Gandhi had organised attacks on Sikhs, according to NDTV. “It was suggested that Shri Rajiv Gandhi had told one of his officials that Sikhs should be taught a lesson,” the report had said. “The commission finds no substance in that allegation. The evidence in this behalf is very vague.”