Coming on the heels of the controversy created by Congress president Sonia Gandhi's meeting with the Shahi Imam of Jama Masijd in New Delhi, BJP president Rajnath Singh has raised eyebrows after he held discussions with key clerics of the minority community in Lucknow. Mr. Singh is contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Lucknow, which has a sizable Muslim population, including Shias. Mr. Singh along with sitting MP Lalji Tandon and Mayor Dinesh Sharma on Monday evening held meetings with vice-president of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, Maulana Kalbe Jawwad, Maulana Hameeudul Hassan, Maulana Yasoob Abbas and Maulana Khalid Rasheed Farangi Mahali.
The Congress hit out at the BJP chief accusing him of trying to seek votes on communal lines. The BJP, however, defended the meetings, with Mr. Tandon who is considered the anchor of Mr. Singh's campaign in Lucknow, terming them "courtesy visits" with no political motive. "Rajnath Singh is a candidate and it's his duty to go door to door to everyone's house. Not be selective. All prominent persons in Lucknow are close to each other. So we have to call on everyone and reach out to people of all sections," said Mr. Tandon.
Mr. Singh's meeting left a mark among the clerics with Maulana Jawwad showering praises on the BJP chief, comparing him to former Prime Minister and five-time MP from Lucknow Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It, however, came at the cost of condemning the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
"We are scared of Narendra Modi, but Rajnath Singh has the acceptability of Mr. Vajpayee," the cleric told a television channel. Mr. Singh himself dismissed any comparisons with Ms. Gandhi's meeting with the Shahi Imam, saying that he was meeting religious leaders of all faiths and was "not seeking votes on religious grounds."