Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday refused to apologise for his “rape in India” comment made at an election rally the previous day, PTI reported. Gandhi accused the government of targeting him deliberately to deflect attention from the massive protests in North East against amendments to Citizenship Act.

“As far as their [BJP’s] demand for apologising, I am never going to apologise to them,” he told reporters outside Parliament.

It is the prime minister who should apologise “for burning the North East, for destroying India’s economy and for his speech calling Delhi the rape capital of India,” the Congress leader later said in a tweet.

Addressing a rally in Jharkhand’s Godda district on Thursday, Gandhi had said: “Narendra Modi had said ‘Make in India’ but nowadays wherever you look, it is ‘Rape in India’. In Uttar Pradesh, Narendra Modi’s MLA raped a woman, then she met with an accident but Narendra Modi did not utter a word”.

Gandhi clarified that he had simply made a point that Modi has been talking about “made in India’’ but it has now become “rape in India” as crimes against women have increased. “The main agenda is that Modi and Amit Shah have burned North East,” he added. “This is a tactic used to divert attention by raising rape remarks.”

He was attacked by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in Parliament over these remarks. Union Minister Smriti Irani said in Lok Sabha that Gandhi should be punished. “This is for the first time in history that a leader is giving a clarion call that Indian women should be raped,” she said. “Is this Rahul Gandhi’s message to the people of the country?”

The BJP leader said Gandhi had insulted the women and people of India.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also criticised Rahul Gandhi’s comments in Lok Sabha and said people who make such remarks have no moral right to be a member of the House. “The prime minister is promoting ‘Make in India’ so that the country becomes an export youth capital and generates employment opportunity,” he said. “But equating that idea with something so vile, is hurtful to not just me but the entire country.”

BJP MP Locket Chatterjee reiterated Irani’s comments. “Modi ji said ‘Make in India’ but Rahul ji said ‘Rape in India’, he is welcoming everybody that come and rape us...this is an insult to Indian women,” she alleged. Chatterjee added that all the men were not rapists.

However, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Kanimozhi defended the Congress MP’s comment and said he was trying to highlight the increasing incidents of rape cases in India. “The prime minister said ‘make in India’, which we respect, but what is happening in country,” she asked. “That is what Rahul Gandhi intended to say. Unfortunately ‘make in India’ is not happening and women in the country are being raped. This is a concern.”

Both Modi and Gandhi were present during the proceedings in the House.