Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi on Saturday brushed aside the ransom announced on his head following his controversial remarks on Hindu god Ram, even as a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader sought to distance the organisation from the threat call.
"I will continue to be among you even if I am not here," the octogenarian DMK president told his supporters without making any direct reference to the death threat.
According to media reports, Ram Vilas Vedanti, a former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP who is also described as senior VHP leader, said in Ayodhya on Friday that VHP saints would weigh in gold anyone who beheaded Karunanidhi and cut out his tongue.
"I must be very precious if someone is ready to pay gold for me," Karunanidhi said.
The DMK, part of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in New Delhi, is pressing for the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project that BJP, VHP and many other Hindu groups have opposed.
The opponents argue that the project would damage a reef called Ram Setu or Adam's Bridge that was constructed by Lord Ram, though scientists say there is no evidence to support the contention.
As the political parties this month debated the religious aspect of the project, Karunanidhi angered many Hindu outfits by questioning Lord Ram's existence and also cracking jokes on the Ram Setu - leading to the threat from Vedanti.
But VHP working president S Vedantam clarified in a statement in Chennai: "I wish to clarify that he (Vedanti) is not a VHP member. The views expressed by him are his own and the VHP has never subscribed to such views."
The VHP's main concern is reinforcing Hindu religious values and it has never indulged in personal attacks or supported inflammatory speeches, Vedantam said.
However, Karunanidhi's archrival, opposition leader J Jayalalitha of AIADMK called for his resignation, alleging he was making inflammatory speeches that could lead to violence.
"A chief minister can be an atheist or a believer in a particular faith. It is his personal matter. But when he assumes office, he should set aside his likes and dislikes and treat all people with respect without any bias."
"It was highly condemnable that Karunanidhi continued to hurt the sentiments of crores (tens of millions) of Hindus across the globe by speaking ill of Lord Ram," she said.
Demanding that Karunanidhi step down "for having violated the Indian constitution" by making inflammatory speeches, she threatened a statewide agitation from Sep 26.
In retaliation, senior DMK leader Arcot Veerasamy made a similar threat against the BJP. He said black flag demonstrations would be held in front of BJP offices in Tamil Nadu if Vedanti did not withdraw his remarks.
"The blood of 'the self-respect movement' is running in our body. We will make them understand that we will not tolerate any offensive remarks about our leader," Veerasamy said.
While the BJP has demanded that the alignment of the proposed shipping canal should be changed so as to save Ram Setu, Union Shipping and Transport Minister TR Baalu, who is from DMK, refused to budge.
"I do not see any such thing as Ram Setu. I know only Adam's Bridge," Baalu said in Chennai earlier in the day.
He reiterated the government would approach the Supreme Court, which has stayed the project for the time being, to vacate the stay and continue with its completion to save the navigation time.