Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing shock over the kind of language Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari had used in a letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray over reopening places of worship, PTI reported. Places of religious worship have been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In his letter, Koshyari had asked Thackeray: “Have you suddenly turned secular, the term you hated?”

Pawar, in his letter to the prime minister, said Thackeray has a duty to uphold secularism as the word “secular” appears in the Preamble to the Constitution. Pawar alleged that Koshyari’s words on secularism sounded like a political statement to the leader of a party, which is unbecoming of a governor.

“I firmly believe that in a democracy, free exchange of views between the Hon. Governor and the Hon. Chief Minister must take place,” Pawar wrote. The Nationalist Congress Party chief, however, added that the tone and tenor of such discourse must always be in keeping with the stature of the constitutional post occupied by the individuals. Pawar said he backed Thackeray’s public response to Koshyari. He said he was shocked to see the language used in Koshyari’s letter to the chief minister.

Pawar told Modi he had not spoken about the matter to either Koshyari or Thackeray. “I must share my pain with you and the public at the erosion of standards of conduct by the high constitutional office of the Hon. Governor,” he wrote.

In his letter, the governor had called Thackeray “a strong votary of Hindutva.” He had added: “You had publicly espoused your devotion for Lord Rama by visiting Ayodhya after taking charge as the chief minister. Wonder if you are receiving any divine premonition to keep postponing the reopening the places of worship time and again or have you suddenly turned secular yourselves, the term you hated?”

In response to Koshyari’s letter, Thackeray had said that he does not need any certificate from anyone for his Hindutva. He said his Hindutva does not permit him to welcome a person who called Mumbai “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir”. Thackeray’s statement was a reference to Koshyari meeting actor Kangana Ranaut last month, after she had claimed that Mumbai feels like Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. He also said: “Secularism is a crucial base of the oath you took as Governor. Do you not believe it?”

Maharashtra has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases of all states in India. The state government has been gradually relaxing lockdown restrictions under its “Mission Begin Again” programmes, allowing the use of public parks, outdoor sports, all shops selling non-essential items, inter-district travel without restrictions. On October 5, it allowed restaurants and bars to reopen for dining services at 50% capacity. However, entry to places of worship, gymnasiums and universal access to local trains in Mumbai still remains prohibited.