Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has rejected calls to sack a government minister who was accused of making controversial statements about religious minority groups.

Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti was accused of saying at an election rally earlier in the week in New Delhi that Indians "who do not choose the sons of Ram [the Hindu God] are illegitimate".

Local media quoted her as saying on Monday :"It is for you to decide, whether you want to vote for those who believe in Ram or those who are non-believers."

Her statements, construed as a verbal attack on minorities, had led to an uproar that shut down parliament for four days.

Opposition lawmakers had sought her removal from the council of ministers on the grounds that her comments went against India's secular constitution.

However, Jyoti has apologised and insisted that she did intend to insult any religious group and was rather criticising political rivalries of the ruling BJP party.

The BJP is seeking to wrest control of New Delhi when provincial elections are held in January.

Modi, who admitted that her remarks were unacceptable, also told MPs on Friday that Niranjan had expressed regret for her comments and sought foregiveness.