Three days after AICC president Sonia Gandhi met Jama Masjid Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari, triggering a political row, the religious leader on Friday announced his support to the Congress, the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar.

Terming communalism a “bigger threat” than corruption, Maulana Bukhari appealed to Muslims to support the Congress and ensure that “secular votes are not divided.”

The BJP, which approached the Election Commission alleging that the meeting between the Shahi Imam and Ms. Gandhi could polarise the elections, reacted sharply to the Shahi Imam’s support.

The BJP said while the Congress accused the party of practising communal politics, it “exposed” itself by seeking the support of Muslim clerics for votes. “The Congress talks secularism but walks communalism. The Congress has been badly exposed. It has been labelling us as a communal party but now it has itself been unmasked,” BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.

The Congress downplayed the meeting and said the Imam had met leaders of other political parties too. Party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said “unlike the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi,” the Congress never appealed to people to vote on religious lines.

“For the coming Lok Sabha elections, I declare support for the Congress. The nation faces danger from communal forces ... We have to fight unitedly against communal forces,” the Shahi Imam said on Friday.

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