Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath on Monday claimed he referred to Bharatiya Janata Party candidate for the Dabra bye-polls, Imarti Devi, as an “item” because he forgot her name, NDTV reported.

“I said something, it wasn’t to insult anyone,” Nath said. “I just didn’t remember the [Devi’s] name.” The senior Congress leader then showed a list of poll candidates and said: “This list says item number 1, item number 2. Is this an insult?”

A controversy erupted after Nath at a poll meeting in Gwalior’s Dabra district on Sunday said Congress candidate Suresh Raje was a “simple man” unlike his opponent who is an “item”. Nath was also dismissive of Devi’s candidature.

Ye unke jaise nahi hai… kya hai uska naam? [He is not like her, what is her name?],” Nath had asked the crowd that responded with Devi’s name. “You know her better than I do, you people should have warned me beforehand… ye kya item haikya item hai.”

Meanwhile, the Election Commission has sought a “detailed report” from the chief electoral officer of Madhya Pradesh on Nath’s remarks. “Based on the report received from the chief electoral officer of MP, we have asked for a detailed report,” an unidentified EC functionary told The Indian Express. “It would be with the Commission on Tuesday. Based on it, the Commission would take a view.”

Nath’s disparaging comments triggered a debate on the lack of respect accorded to female politicians. The National Commission for Women on Monday had forwarded the matter to the Election Commission for necessary action.

The Bharatiya Janata Party leadership did not take kindly to Nath’s comment either. A party delegation had met Election Commission officials in Bhopal to complain against Nath for “insulting women and Dalits”.

On Monday, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tweeted that the Congress had revealed its “feudal mindset” with such comments. “Imarti Devi is the daughter of a poor farmer who rose to become a public servant after starting off as a village labourer,” he tweeted. “By referring to a woman as an ‘item’, the Congress and its and leadership have revealed its feudal mindset.” The chief minister also observed a two-hour “silent protest” in Bhopal.

Devi was one of the 22 MLAs, who resigned in March, toppling the Nath-led Congress government in Madhya Pradesh. She eventually joined the BJP and was given the position of Cabinet minister for Women and Child Development.

The Dabra Assembly seat is reserved for the Scheduled Caste community. Bye-polls for 28 Assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh will be held on November 3. The results will be declared on November 10.