Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb has stirred a controversy by saying Punjabis and Jats are physically strong but less intelligent than Bengalis, PTI reported on Monday.

Deb, while addressing an event at Agartala Press Club on Sunday, said every community in India is known for a certain character. “For Bengal or Bengalis, it is said that one should not challenge them when it is regarding intelligence,” the Bharatiya Janata Party leader said. “Bengalis are known as very intelligent and it is their identity. Whereas, Punjabis and Jats are known for their physical strength.”

The chief minister continued: “When we talk about the people of Punjab, we say he’s a Punjabi, a sardar. They may have less intelligence but are very strong. One can’t win them over by strength but with love and affection. A large number of Jats live in Haryana. So what do people say about Jats? Jats are less intelligent but are very healthy. If one challenges a Jat, he will bring a gun from his house.”

Deb on Tuesday asked people from the Punjabi and Jat communities to accept his apology. “Several of my friends are from this community,” he tweeted. “If anyone has been hurt by my comments, I am apologetic about that.”

Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, posting a video of the chief minister’s speech, said the comments are indicative of “the mindset of the BJP”. He also questioned why Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and his deputy Dushyant Chautala were silent. “Where are Modi ji and Nada ji? Apologise, take action,” Surjewala tweeted.

Congress leader Somen Mitra also criticised Deb’s comments. “BJP insults Jats and Punjabis,” he tweeted. “Does PM Narendra Modi who talks of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas, approve of this despicable statement of the Tripura chief minister? Are ML Khattar, Hardeep Puri, other BJP leaders ok with what Biplab Deb has said? Is this the official line of BJP?”

The 48-year-old Tripura chief minister has made the headlines for his controversial comments ever since he came to power. In November, Deb had claimed that Mughal emperors intended to destroy the cultural wonders of the state by “bombing them”. In September, Deb claimed that people who opposed to making Hindi India’s national language do not love the country. He has also been derided for claiming ducks help recycle water and increase oxygen levels in water bodies, besides boosting the rural economy.

In 2018, he likened communists to Mughals and the British rulers, accusing them of unsuccessfully trying to destroy Indian culture. He told a crowd at a rally that the internet and satellites were not new to India but had existed since the time of the Mahabharata.