Union Minister Amit Shah launched a sharp attack on Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav today, saying electing him would mean a return to "goonda raj" (lawlessness) in Uttar Pradesh". Mr Yadav is seen as the strongest competitor to the BJP, which is hoping for a second consecutive term in power in the assembly elections beginning on February 10.
"Azam Khan was arrested... and there were so many charges against him. Akhilesh babu... you talk about law... you should be ashamed," he added at a public meeting in Mathura, part of the crucial western Uttar Pradesh where the BJP is seen as being at a disadvantage owing to the alliance between Mr Yadav and Jat leader Jayant Chaudhary.
Addressing the limited gathering as per the Election Commission rules, he said, "There was a time when gangsters and criminals spread such panic that even the state police feared them. Women and young girls feared venturing out. But that has changed now. The gangsters and criminals are so fearful of the police now that they are surrendering voluntarily - that too with a 'patta' (collar) around their necks".
"We have taken criminals and gangsters to task and put them behind bars. We have taken Uttar Pradesh away from the 'parivaar-vaad' (dynastic rule) and 'jaati-vaad' (casteism) and focussed on development - and you all can see it for yourselves," he said.
"India cannot progress unless Uttar Pradesh - with 200 million people - is not progressing. It is your trust and faith in us that UP is progressing today. It is UP that will decide India's destiny," Mr Shah said.
Over the last year, the Jats had turned against the BJP following the agitation over the controversial farm laws. Now they are rallying behind the RLD leader.
Last evening, Mr Shah met a group of influential Jat leaders at the Delhi home of Parvesh Verma -- the son of BJP's former Delhi Chief Minister Sahib Singh Verma -- for a strategy session ahead of the elections.
Mr Shah's visit is also being seen as part of BJP's efforts to project Mathura as one of the three key religious sites in the state after Ayodhya and Varanasi. Both Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath as well as Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya have recently made remarks about the glorious revival of the Krishna Janmabhoomi temple.
This morning, Mr Shah offered prayers at Shri Banke Bihari Mandir in Vrindavan.
"I want to personally thank each one of you here in Mathura because be it in 2014, 2017 or 2019, only the 'Kamal' (Lotus) has been seen here … You have helped strengthen Uttar Pradesh. In fact, across UP, I thank all the people of UP who have helped bring a change for the better," he told his audience.