In a controversial speech which seemed to suggest double voting, Maharashtra Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Abu Azmi on Monday said “I urge North Indian voters to vote for the SP candidate in Mumbai on April 24 and then take the evening train to Uttar Pradesh and help the party win there as well.” He was addressing a rally in Saki Naka.

However, when Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav came to the dais, he tried to salvage the situation. “The BJP has fielded its Presidential candidate from Varanasi. One of the most important phases of UP elections is also on April 24, the same day that Mumbai goes to vote. You cannot vote twice but you can certainly go to Uttar Pradesh and help the party,” he said.

Mr Azmi's statement comes close on the heels of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar being censured by the Election Commission for urging a gathering in Mumbai to vote here and also in Satara district.

Mr Yadav was in Mumbai to campaign for four of his party candidates: Farhan Azmi (Mumbai North Central), Kamlesh Yadav (Mumbai North), Abbas Ahmed (Mumbai South) and Handed Sayyed (Kalgan). After concluding a road rally in the North Central constituency, party members gathered for a public meeting at Saki Naka.

Taking potshots at both, the Congress and the BJP, Mr Yadav said that no government could be formed without taking into account the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh. “Congress is solely responsible for the rise of BJP this election. It’s failure whether in not controlling inflation or corruption has helped the BJP. Our party has trumped the BJP in the past. Our government's work has been appreciated by the Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission," he said.

Mr Yadav also spoke of the UP model while pointing to what the national political scene should resemble. "We work on a truly secular model. The ruling government should also work in a secular manner," he said.

Reiterating the secular thread, Farhan Azmi in response to VHP President Pravin Togadia's anti-Muslim speech said “If any Muslim wants to buy property here, we will help the person.”

Meanwhile, politicians insisted that the SP's role this election is more than that of merely that of a spoiler. “We are being perceived as working for the BJP by cutting votes of the Congress. But in fact, SP is the only party which can stop BJP's force,” said Mr Azmi.