The Bharatiya Janata Party on Friday sought action against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for his “rape in India” comment at an election rally in Jharkhand the previous day, the Hindustan Times reported. Assembly elections are currently underway in several phases in the state.

“It is with a sense of outrage that women MPs of BJP have approached the Election Commission of India to take strongest action possible against Rahul Gandhi,” Union minister Smriti Irani said. “Gandhi has used rape as a political weapon to settle scores with Narendra Modi.” She claimed that this was the first time that a political leader had used rape for “political mockery”.

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.”

Irani said, “The entire nation looks upon this constitutional authority [the Election Commission] to ensure that dignity of women is upheld and those politicians who seek to use rape as a political weapon are reprimanded with the severest punishment possible. Who has given Rahul Gandhi the right to say that all women are being raped in the country? Who has given Rahul Gandhi the right to say that every man is a rapist? Who has given Rahul Gandhi the right to tarnish the image of the country for his own politics?”

The BJP leaders submitted a memorandum to the Election Commission saying “Rahul Gandhi has grossly violated the letter and spirit of the Model Code of Conduct. He has inflicted irreparable hurt on the status of women in India.” Irani claimed that the election panel has promised to look into the matter.

Gandhi’s comment also created an uproar in Parliament earlier on Friday. Besides Irani, BJP leaders such as Rajnath Singh and Locket Chatterjee also criticised Gandhi and sought an apology. 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.

After the Parliament session, Gandhi told reporters that he would not apologise for the comment and instead accused the government of targeting him deliberately to deflect attention from the massive protests in North East against amendments to the 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 [in 2013],” the Congress leader later said in a tweet.

He also 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.”