- Yogi Adityanath linked a Congress candidate to terrorist Masood Azhar
- Congress's Imran Masood is up against BJP lawmaker Raghav Lakhanpal
- Imran Masood was arrested for making a hate speech before 2014 polls
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath -- who launched the BJP's election campaign in Uttar Pradesh with a rally in Saharanpur -- generated controversy on Sunday by linking the Congress candidate to Pakistani terrorist Masood Azhar. Congress's Imran Masood, an influential leader from the area, is up against the BJP's sitting lawmaker Raghav Lakhanpal in Saharanpur, which will vote in the first phase on April 11.
The third contestant is Samajwadi Party candidate Haji Fazal-ur-Rehman, who, while being a first-timer in Lok Sabha elections, is considered a serious opponent because of the combined heft of the alliance.
"Saharanpur also has the son-in-law of Azhar Masood, who speaks in his language. You have to decide whether you will elect a person who speaks in Azhar Masood's language or Modi-ji's lieutenant in Raghav Lakhanpal, who will ensure development for all," Yogi Adityanath said.
Imran Masood's uncle Rashid Masood was Member of Parliament from Saharanpur five times - the last time in 2004. But the two were estranged and patched up last month - a development that's seen as positive for the Congress.
In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Imran Masood was arrested for making a hate speech, in which he threatened to chop up Narendra Modi, then running for prime minister, into pieces.
The UP police had said they received a video CD that purportedly showed Imran Masood making the threat.
"I am a man of the street, ready to give my life for my people. I am neither afraid of death nor of killing. He thinks this is Gujarat. There are only 4 per cent Muslims in Gujarat. There are 42 per cent Muslims here," Imran Masood was purportedly heard saying in the video.
He was later granted bail, but lost the 2014 general elections to Raghav Lakhanpal by 65,000 votes.
This time, Saharanpur is witnessing a three-cornered fight.
The BJP's Mr Lakhanpal is facing challenge from Haji Fazal-ur-Rehman of the Samajwadi Party, who was the runner up in the mayoral polls from Saharanpur city in 2017, and Imran Masood.
At the Saharanpur rally, Yogi Adityanath also took on Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, who have ended their long-time rivalry to take on the BJP.
"Those who are fighting just 37-38 seats, are dreaming of becoming Prime Minister. This is a dream that the people of UP will reject," the Chief Minister said, mocking the leaders.