Mumbai Pramod Mahajan, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in charge of Maharashtra for the assembly elections, yesterday blamed the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for being responsible for raising the Savarkar controversy.

Scoffing at both the parties who have been criticising the BJP and Shiv Sena for drawing political mileage out of the Savarkar issue, he told reporters "It will cease to be an issue if the union government puts back the plaque containing Savarkar's poem in the cellular jail in Port Blair."

The BJP and Sena expect Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar from the Congress to apologise for his comments on Savarkar and for removing the plaque, he said.

Ever since Aiyar removed the plaque of freedom fighter Savarkar last month, opposition parties have stepped up protests, condemning this act, with the Sena even holding a rally to beat Aiyar's effigy with slippers.

Congress leaders have been veering off this issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calling it an unnecessary controversy and that it was Aiyar's personal opinion.

But Mahajan strongly felt it was a sorry state of affairs because no one neither the prime minister, NCP President Sharad Pawar or Maharashtra Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde had come out with a clear statement on a subject that was sensitive to the people of Maharashtra. On the other hand, Pawar said he wants a debate on Savarkar.

Though Savarkar was a freedom fighter who was imprisoned by the British in the Port Blair jail in the Andamans for 11 years, he is more often remembered for inspiring the killers behind the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Congress and NCP caught on to this point and also Savarkar's belief in a Hindu country.

When asked why the BJP, when it was in power, did not put up a statue of Savarkar in Marseilles, France, even though that country had given permission, Mahajan replied that the former deputy prime minister did not receive any letter from the French government on this matter.

"But the BJP-led government did more than any other government named the Port Blair airport after Savarkar and installed his plaque at the Flame of Freedom monument."

With elections looming, and the storm over Savarkar refusing to die down, this issue will be just one of the many that the BJP will raise before the electorate.

"But we will keep Sena chief Bal Thackeray's word on giving free power and waiving loans if we are voted back to power," said Mahajan.

The issues that the saffron alliance will take before the electorate are many suicide of farmers, rising burden of debt amongst the rural population, unemployment, bomb blasts, ISI activities, communal riots in the state, Ishrat's case, illegal Bangladeshis in Mumbai and of course, the Savarkar issue.

He said Pawar who broke with the Congress on Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin issue is functioning under her leadership. How can a man who is not sincere to his principles be honest with the voters, he asks.

Meanwhile, the Sena and BJP are still contemplating where to hold their rally to kick off the campaigning for the elections.

The rally at the close of campaign will be held on October 10, just three days before the state goes to the polls.