As campaigning closes for the first phase of the bitterly fought Gujarat election, a poster controversy has erupted after banners were put up in some parts of Surat urging Muslims to vote for the Congress to ensure its senior leader Ahmed Patel becomes Chief Minister.
- Posters in Surat appealed to Muslims to vote for Congress' Ahmed Patel
- Mr Patel alleges that the BJP is behind the "fake posters"
- The BJP has denied it has anything to do with the Ahmed Patel posters
Mr Patel, who is a Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat, has alleged that the BJP is behind what he called the "fake posters" and has accused the state's ruling party of "trying very very hard to divert the narrative from its performance of last 22 years to a divisive agenda."
The posters show Mr Patel with Rahul Gandhi, who is set be Congress president, and read, in Gujarati, "To maintain unity within the Muslim community and to make Ahmed Patel the 'Wazir-e-Alam' (grand minister) of Gujarat, we request the Muslim community to vote only for Congress."
"Putting up fake posters and orchestrating a rumour campaign shows the utter desperation of the BJP. Fearing defeat, do they have to rely on such dirty tricks? I have never ever been a candidate for CM and will never, ever be," Ahmed Patel said.
The BJP has denied it has anything to do with the Ahmed Patel poster. "First they create posters and make them viral and then blame us. They blamed us even for the fake candidates list that went viral. It has become a habit with the Congress that they level such baseless allegations," said BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya.
The BJP also disowns posters that were in circulation a few weeks ago and have made a comeback today, featuring Chief Minster Vijay Rupani, BJP Chief Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and their initials below their photos spelling "RAM."
The same poster, mostly shared on social media, also has photos of the three young caste leaders in Gujarat who Rahul Gandhi has tapped to support the Congress -- Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani. Their initials below their pictures spell "HAJ," the Muslim pilgrimage.
Ram temple politics made its way to the front in the Gujarat campaign this week as Prime Minister Narendra Modi attacked the Congress in election speeches after its senior leader Kapil Sibal, also a senior lawyer, appealed in the Supreme Court that hearing on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid disputed site in Ayodhya be postponed till after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Kapil Sibal argued that the BJP has said "the Ram temple will be built before 2019 through legal means... They want to make it part of their election manifesto and the court should not fall into the trap."
The court turned down his appeal. In Gujarat, PM Modi lashed out at Mr Sibal saying he had "no problem" with the Congress leader defending the Muslim side, but questioned his linking the "Ram temple to the Lok Sabha elections."
BJP chief Amit Shah called it the Congress' "double standards," stating that "On the one hand, temples are being visited ahead of elections. On the other hand, they are trying to delay hearing of the Ram Janmabhoomi case." The reference was to Rahul Gandhi's frequent visit to temples during the Gujarat campaign, which the BJP alleges is less devotion and more designed to draw Hindu votes in the state.
The Congress has distanced itself from Kapil Sibal's comments in court, saying he made them in his personal capacity as a lawyer and the party has nothing to do with it.