Sambit Patra Apologizes For Remark On Lord Jagannath, Vows To Observe Fast

In response to the backlash, Patra addressed Chief Minister Patnaik, saying, “Sir, let’s not make an issue out of a nonexistent issue. We all have ‘slip of the tongue’ sometimes. Thanks and Pranam!”

Sambit Patra, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate for the Puri Lok Sabha seat, found himself embroiled in controversy on Monday after making a contentious statement during a local news channel interview. Patra stated that “Lord Jagannath is a devotee (bhakt) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” a comment he later described as a “slip of the tongue.”

In an interview with ANI, Patra clarified his remarks and expressed regret for the mistake. “Today, one of my statements has become controversial. It happened when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s roadshow ended in Puri, and I was giving out bytes to several media channels,” he explained. Patra noted that he had been repeating that Prime Minister Modi is an ardent devotee of Maha Prabhu Jagannath Ji, emphasizing Modi’s regular visits to the Lord Jagannath temple in Ahmedabad.

Patra recounted, “Amid a lot of people, hot weather, and noise, I unknowingly said the opposite of what I had been saying all along. I mistakenly said that Lord Jagannath is a devotee of PM Modi.” Acknowledging the mistake, he added, “No person in his right mind can say that God is a devotee of any human being. The mistake happened unknowingly while giving out bytes to a channel. I agree that the sentiments of some people have been hurt due to my statement, but even the lord forgives a person for committing a mistake unknowingly.”

To atone for his error, Patra announced, “I have decided to observe fasting as an apology. It was never my intention to commit this mistake, but still, because Mahaprabhu Jagannath is the Lord of the Universe and I am an ardent devotee just like the hundreds and thousands of Odias, I feel I should convey my apology and offer penance to the Lord for a ‘slip of the tongue’ that occurred unknowingly.”

The controversy arose during the fifth phase of the Lok Sabha election and the second phase of the Odisha Assembly election. Patra’s accidental remark drew sharp criticism from Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who labeled it an ‘insult’ to Lord Jagannath. Patnaik stated, “Mahaprabhu Shree Jagannatha is the Lord of the Universe. Calling Mahaprabhu a bhakt of another human being is an insult to the Lord. This has hurt the sentiments and demeaned the faith of crores of Jagannatha bhaktas and Odias across the world.” He added, “The Lord is the greatest symbol of Odia Asmita.”

In response to the backlash, Patra addressed Chief Minister Patnaik, saying, “Sir, let’s not make an issue out of a nonexistent issue. We all have ‘slip of the tongue’ sometimes. Thanks and Pranam!”

The Congress party also condemned Patra’s remarks and demanded an apology. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Modi held a roadshow in Puri alongside Sambit Patra on Monday morning.

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Patra had previously contested the Puri Lok Sabha seat in 2019 but lost to Biju Janata Dal (BJD) candidate Pinaki Mishra. This election season, Patra faces competition from Congress’ Jaya Narayan Patnayak and BJD’s Arup Patnaik.

The Lok Sabha elections are being conducted in seven phases, from April 19 to June 1, with the counting of votes scheduled for June 4. Voting for the fifth phase began on Monday morning across 49 parliamentary constituencies in six states and two Union Territories (UTs), amid tight security and arrangements.

Puri, known for its iconic Jagannath Temple, holds a significant place in the cultural and religious landscape of Odisha. The temple, dedicated to Lord Jagannath, is a revered pilgrimage site, attracting millions of devotees annually. The political landscape of Puri and Odisha, in general, has seen intense competition, particularly between the BJP, BJD, and Congress, with the Jagannath Temple often being at the heart of cultural pride and identity in the region.

In recent years, the BJP has sought to strengthen its presence in Odisha, traditionally a stronghold of the BJD. The region’s political dynamics have been shaped by issues of development, cultural identity, and religious sentiments, making statements like Patra’s particularly sensitive. As the election season progresses, candidates remain vigilant about their public statements, knowing the profound impact these can have on voter sentiments and electoral outcomes.