New Delhi: A viral video of a campaign speech made by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Punjab unit chief Ashwani Sharma, during which he purportedly told a gathering to “vote for Congress”, sparked a controversy Sunday as the state voted to elect members to its 117-member assembly.
In the video, Sharma, who is also the BJP’s candidate from Pathankot assembly constituency, is allegedly heard telling people to “vote for Congress” if they don’t want to vote for BJP, but not the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
“A vote for AAP means a vote for terrorism. A vote to break Punjab. Any person who votes for AAP will be betraying the country and Punjab. If you don’t want to vote for us (BJP), vote for Congress. But don’t vote for somebody who betrays the country,” Sharma is purportedly heard saying.
After the video was circulated on social media, Sharma reportedly issued a clarification saying that his statement was “twisted” by his political opponents.
ThePrint sought comments on the matter from Sharma as well as AAP’s Punjab in-charge Raghav Chadha but got no response. This article will be updated if their responses are received.
The BJP is fighting the Punjab polls in alliance with former chief minister and veteran Congress leader Captain Amarinder Singh’s newly-formed party, the Punjab Lok Congress. The poll battle is largely set to be a triangular contest between the BJP, its former ally the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which broke the alliance last year over the recently-repealed farm laws, the ruling Congress, and AAP. The Samyukta Samaj Morcha, a political front of farmers’ bodies, is also contesting the elections.
The Congress is looking to form government again even as the state unit battled internal discord in the run-up to polls. By all accounts, the AAP, the principal opposition in the state, has emerged as its chief competitor.
Spreading falsehoods old Congress tactic: Sharma
In the viral video, Sharma, who appears to be speaking at a campaign rally, is heard talking about the AAP, and claiming that voting for the party is the “same as voting for terrorism”.
It was not immediately clear when and where he made this speech.
Soon after the video went viral, Sharma stated in another video that his statement was “twisted” and “taken out of context”.
“To spread falsehoods is an old tactic of the Congress. A statement of mine has been twisted and taken out of context to fool people of the state. Both Congress and AAP cannot do any good for Punjab and both parties are dangerous for Punjab. Press the lotus button for the BJP so that the state remains safe and there is development,” he said in a clarification video.
Good sign for us: Congress
The Congress meanwhile took a dig at Sharma, saying that his statement was a “good sign” for their party.
“BJP has understood that they have no chance in Punjab. The atmosphere that they wanted to create on the back of Amarinder Singh’s clout has not been successful,” Congress spokesperson Alka Lamba, who has been closely involved with the party’s Punjab campaign, told ThePrint.
“That being said, BJP still has some vote share, even if it is 1-2 per cent. In electoral politics, sometimes even 1-2 per cent becomes important to the outcome. So my understanding is that they’ve decided to rise above politics, since they don’t see any prospects for themselves, and as the party’s chief in the state, Sharma has appealed to his voters to vote for the Congress,” she added.
“This is a good sign for the Congress. At least the BJP chief is accepting that irrespective of our political differences, AAP is dangerous and that the Congress is a better option to maintain peace and security in Punjab. Kejriwal ji has not spoken about the Khalistan issue yet. So therefore, the BJP chief has appealed to their voters. It is our understanding that the BJP voters are coming to us,” said Lamba.
Results of the state assembly elections will be declared on 10 March.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)