It turns out Minister of State for Culture and Tourism Mahesh Sharma has several specific criteria for what defines an Indian culture. And in his view, APJ Abdul Kalam makes the cut as an ideal Indian, and that's despite the former president being a Muslim.
Sharma's in an interview to India Today raised several eyebrows while speaking about changing the name of Aurangzeb Road in Delhi to APJ Abdul Kalam Road.
"Aurangzeb Road ka naam bhi badal kar ek aise mahapurush ke naam par kiya hai jo Musalman hote hue bhi inta bada rashtravadi aur manavtavadi insaan tha (We have renamed it after someone who was a humanitarian and a nationalist despite being a Muslim)."
Sharma made several other controversial statements in the interview where he also said that the Bible and Quran were not part of the soul of India.
"I respect Bible and Quran but they are not central to the soul of India in same the way as Gita and Ramayana are," the minister said.
However, Sharma has now come out with a defence on his statements.
"I only said Kalam was a rashtravadi Muslim," he toldThe Indian Express.
Meanwhile he told ANI that one should look at his interview in a holistic manner.
"I want the people to see that interview in a holistic approach and not picking up a line from that... I never said that my regard is not towards Quran or Bible. It is good if we know about Quran or Bible,"he told ANI.
You can watch Sharma's full interview with India Today's Rahul Kanwal here and judge:
Sharma had earlier courted controversy when he had said, "We will cleanse every area of public discourse that has been westernised and where Indian culture and civilisation need to be restored — be it the history we read, our cultural heritage or our institutes that have been polluted over years."
Sharma is a first time MP and as noted by Firstpost earlier, his induction to the Union Council of Ministers in its first expansion surprised many within and outside the BJP.
"A number of senior party members who had lost out to him in getting a ministerial berth went to great lengths to figure out how he could have made such an impact on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, or what sort of influence he wielded in the Parivar, to make him one of the most important ministers at the Centre... His profile on the Lok Sabha website refers to him as a “staunch follower of RSS”. An RSS activist said Sharma had close affiliations with the RSS, though not as strong as some others in the party," the article had said.