Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath on Tuesday said he will not apologise for calling a Bharatiya Janata Party leader Imarti Devi an “item”, ANI reported. This came after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi called his comments “unfortunate”. Gandhi, who is on a three day visit to Kerala, is the first person from the party to speak about Kamal Nath’s derogatory remarks.

“Kamal Nath ji is from my party but personally, I do not like the type of language that he used,” Gandhi told reporters in Wayanad. “I do not appreciate it, regardless of who he is. It is unfortunate.” Gandhi also said that the there is a “lot to be improved at all levels” as far as the way women are treated in India.

Nath, however, said that he had already clarified the context in which he used the controversial term. “Why should I apologise when I did not intend to insult anyone?” he asked. “If anyone felt insulted, I have already expressed regret.”

The matter so far

A controversy erupted after Kamal 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 was 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 hai… kya item hai.”

The Election Commission has sought a detailed report from the chief electoral officer of Madhya Pradesh on the matter, while the National Commission of Women also sought an explanation from Nath. On Monday, Nath claimed that he used the term as he had forgotten the BJP candidate’s name.

Imarti Devi, to whom Nath referred to, also condemned the comments. “What is my fault if I was born in a poor family,” she asked, according to ANI. “What is my fault if I belong to Dalits? I want to appeal to Sonia Gandhi, who is also a mother, to not keep such people in her party. If such words will be used for women then how can any woman move forward?”

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tweeted on Monday asserting 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 and his colleague, BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, observed “silent protests” against the comments. Chouhan has also written to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, asking her to condemn Kamal Nath’s remarks and remove him from all party posts, PTI reported.

Nath then wrote to Chouhan saying that his comment was blown out of proportions and that crimes against women in the state was highest in the country under his tenure. To this, Chouhan, on Tuesday responded saying that the Congress leader should tender an honest apology.

Devi had been a minister in Kamal Nath’s 15-month government before it collapsed in March this year. She was also among the 22 MLAs who walked out of the party with Scindia, leading to its collapse, which had necessitated the upcoming bye-polls in the state.