India is to formally object to a joke by US TV host Jay Leno in which he said that the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine for Sikhs, was a summer home for wealthy presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Minister Vayalar Ravi termed the gag by "The Tonight Show" host as "quite unfortunate and quite objectionable" and said the Indian embassy in Washington would raise the issue, the Press Trust of India reported on Monday.
In a dig at Romney's privileged background during a show last week, Leno used a photo of the ornate Sikh shrine in the northwestern Indian city of Amritsar during a segment on the vacation homes of US Republican presidential candidates.
Angry members of the Sikh community in the US circulated an online petition protesting the "derogatory depiction" of the Golden Temple, adding that "Jay Leno's racist comments need to be stopped right here".
Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Ravi said he had not watched the show himself but that the Sikh community in the US had lobbied him to take action against it.
"Freedom does not mean hurt the sentiments of others... This is not acceptable to us and we take a very strong objection for such a display of an important place like Golden temple," Ravi was reported to have said.
Suhel Seth, a prominent Indian media commentator, accused the government of lacking a sense of humour and focusing on trivial issues.
"Jay Leno is a comedian, take him with a pinch of salt. But our politicians do not want to address real issues, like getting clean water to people. They would rather talk about silly issues," he told AFP.
The "thin-skinned, easily-antagonised government" should take a reality check and "lose the fragile ego", he said.
"As India's profile rises people are going to take a dig at us. We must have the ability to laugh at ourselves," he added.
A spokesman for India's foreign ministry in New Delhi told AFP it was up to the Indian ambassador to the US, Nirupama Rao, if she wanted to lodge a complaint over the joke.
"The ministry has not taken up this issue, but the ambassador does not require the ministry's authorisation. She is authorised to make a complaint anyway, but I do not know if she has done so," he told AFP.
The petition has currently garnered about 2,000 signatures. A Facebook group calling for a boycott of Leno has amassed nearly 3,000 followers.
Leno, the producers of "The Tonight Show" and NBC, the channel which airs the programme, have yet to comment on the matter.
The outrage echoes several earlier rows over allegedly offensive material aired by foreign broadcasters.
Earlier this month, Indian diplomats lodged a protest with the BBC over an India-themed episode of its popular motoring show "Top Gear" claiming it had given a "disgusting" portrayal of the country.
In October 2010, India's foreign minister complained to New Zealand's ambassador over "racist" and "unacceptable" remarks made by a New Zealand television anchor who ridiculed the name of Indian politician Sheila Dikshit.