Political parties were critical of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to communal riots-hit areas of Muzaffarnagar on Monday, with BJP saying such “secular tourism” would not help and BSP terming it as a “drama”.

Samajwadi Party, which supports the UPA from outside, also took a dig saying it is good that the prime minister should undertake such visits as elections are nearing.

BJP vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, “The way secular tourism is being undertaken over the issue of communal riots, it will not help provide any kind of compensation to the dead and will not heal the wounds of riot victims.”

Dr. Singh, accompanied by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party vice president Rahul Gandhi, met some riots victims to assess the situation and said the perpetrators of such crimes would get the “strictest punishment”.

BSP chief Mayawati criticised the visit saying the Centre should have taken the initiative of dismissing the Uttar Pradesh government and imposed President’s Rule instead.

“Otherwise, this act of meeting the victims is only a drama. This will not give any relief to people of Uttar Pradesh. Merely putting balm on their wounds would not help...The Centre should discharge its Constitutional obligation,” she said.

Taking a dig at Singh, SP leader Azam Khan said, “Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has gone to Muzaffarnagar... it is a good thing... elections are near and he should do this.”

He said it would have been better for the prime minister to have also visited other areas like Faizabad, Mathura and Bareilly, where riots have taken place. Mr. Khan also reminded him that he chose to ignore the historic Moradabad riots that continued for quite a while.

BJP president Rajnath Singh said had the Centre intervened in Uttar Pradesh in time, such a big tragedy could have been avoided.

“Today, Uttar Pradesh is burning. Ever since the SP government has come there, the communal harmony in the state has been destroyed,” he said, adding the situation has turned from bad to worse and there is nothing left in the name of law and order.

Mr. Naqvi said, “In this question-answer between state and central government, the common man gets squeezed and kept dying and is now feeling helpless.”

Union Minister of State for Home R.P.N. Singh sought to defend the Prime Minister’s visit, saying, “We had to wait for normalcy to return. We went there to hear first-hand account of what is happening in Muzaffarnagar...All people spoke about how political parties are trying to whip-up the communal passion and they all said this should not happen during an election year.”

The Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari hit out at BJP for its criticism of the Prime Minister’s visit.

“I am surprised that BJP is taking umbrage to the visit by the Prime Minister and the President and Vice President of Congress party. I think BJP will be well served to try and emulate this gesture of empathy,” Mr. Tewari said adding it was a Congress-UPA tradition to reach out to people who are in anguish.

He said while UPA tried to create harmony, the opposition’s role was one of “opposite nature".

“We have always tried to play a role which is constructive, we have always tried to harmonise relationships between various communities and the role of Bhartiya Janata Party over all these years has been one in which they have super-specialised in creating strife across the length and breadth of the country,” he said.