THE ABSENCE of any mention of the BJP on posters welcoming Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) candidate Parminder Singh Dhindsa, who arrived in Malerkotla, which is part of his constituency Sangrur, to campaign Thursday, has rubbed the ally the wrong way.
Miffed, the BJP unit here boycotted a workers' meeting organised at a dharamshala on Satha Chowk, with some claiming this was a strategic move because the SAD thinks people of the constituency won't vote for their alliance since it has a sizeable Muslim population.
Jagdish Kinger, BJP councillor from Malerkotla's municipal council, said, "We had been called for the function, but when I reached early and saw the posters in the hall, I was upset. Hence our wing decided to boycott the function. We are not bothered whether Parminder Dhindsa wins or loses, but we can't accept disrespect of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and even our state BJP leadership."
Jagdish further said, "Because it is a Muslim area, SAD thinks people will not vote for BJP. However, that is not the case. By not mentioning our name on the posters, it indicates that we are against Islam. However, Modiji has done so much work for Muslims and other communities. So such incidents are not going to send a good message among the masses about BJP."
"It is a wrong notion to think that Muslims will think BJP is anti-Muslim and hence our party's name should not be mentioned on posters while campaigning. Rather they need to be made to believe that even BJP is thinking of their welfare. This gesture was uncalled for," he added.
Ankur Zakhmi, another BJP councillor, also expressed his displeasure. "We took up the matter with Parminder Dhindsa and he said he will come to a programme organised by the BJP. When we will organise it, we will not mention SAD on our posters."
This is not the first time such an issue has occurred. In 2014, when campaigning was in full swing for SAD's Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, the prime minister's photographs were missing from posters. The same was the case in the 2017 Vidhan Sabha polls as well when Mohd Owais was the candidate from Malerkotla.
When contacted, Charanjeet Brar, political advisor to SAD president Sukhbir Badal, said, "All across the state, we are mentioning our candidates as SAD-BJP candidates. I am surprised as to why it happened in Malerkotla. We will get it looked into. It may have happened at a local level but no such instructions have been given from party headquarters."
Asked about similar incidents in the past, he said, "I am not aware of past incidents of Modiji or other BJP leaders' pictures not being used in posters."
Local residents however claimed the PM had always been missing from speeches and posters at Malerkotla. Abdul Rashid, a salon owner, said, "This is not new. BJP is always given a back seat in Malerkotla, because people here don't like Narendra Modi. So SAD does not want to take any chances."
Zulfkar Ali Malik, ex-chief executive officer of the Punjab Waqf Board, claimed, "The Congress is spreading a message that if people of Malerkotla vote for SAD, it will be a vote for BJP ultimately at the Centre. However, we need to think that SAD talks about Sikhs and Muslims, who are among the minority. Hence, to seek welfare for minorities, one must vote for SAD."
As per a 2011 census, 1.93% of Punjab's population is Muslim, while 10.82% of Sangrur's population is Muslim.