Thousands of BJP activists Thursday protested in Varanasi and New Delhi against the Election Commission's initial curbs on rallies by its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi even as other political parties accused the BJP of creating needless tensions.
Before Modi flew into the Hindu holy city Thursday evening to address one rally that got the poll panel's green signal late Wednesday, a virtual army of BJP workers staged noisy demonstrations outside the Banaras Hindu University and the district magistrate's office.
"This is completely unconstitutional," charged senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley, a Modi confidant. "Modi is being prevented from addressing election rallies in his own constituency. We have no option but to protest."
In New Delhi, slogan-shouting BJP activists led by Harsh Vardhan marched to the Election Commission headquarters that was put under tight security.
Besides Vadodara, Modi is also contesting the Lok Sabha election from Varanasi. His two main opponents are AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal - who said Thursday that Modi was poised to lose - and Ajay Rai of the Congress.
As crowds swelled at both protest sites in Varanasi, thousands of police and paramilitary forces were deployed to maintain peace. On his part, Modi too appealed for calm.
Jaitley accused District Magistrate Pranjal Yadav of acting at the behest of the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh by fettering Modi.
The BJP declared war on the Election Commission after it said Wednesday that Modi wouldn't be allowed to hold two rallies or meet intellectuals at a hotel here. Security reasons were cited as reasons for the curbs.
But late at night Wednesday, the poll panel said Modi could go ahead with all events including a Ganga aarti but he must not address a planned rally in Varanasi city.
By then, tempers were running high.
Before heading to Varanasi, Modi told an election rally in Azamgarh that the Election Commission had shown bias and told the panel to ensure a free and fair election in the final phase Monday.
Modi alleged large-scale bungling during voting in states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the last three phases of the staggered parliamentary elections.
But the Election Commission, he thundered, had not intervened.
In Varanasi, Aam Aadmi Party leader Kejriwal accused Modi of politicising the issue of the 'Ganga aarti', saying no permission was needed to perform it.
"They (BJP) said they asked for permission. But you don't need permission to perform an aarti unless you are using party flags, banners or indulging in political activity," Kejriwal said.
He accused the BJP of doing "drama" to capture media space ahead of the Monday balloting, and insisted that Modi would surely lose the election in Varanasi.
BSP leader Mayawati and Congress leader P. Chidambaram made similar charges. Mayawati said Modi's aim was to polarize voters on communal lines in Varanasi and its neighbouring region.
The Samajwadi Party - which governs Uttar Pradesh -- hit out at Modi, saying contrary to his allegations, it had done everything to protect him in the state.