The political battle over Rahul Gandhi's statement on "mass murder and rape" in Bhatta-Parsaul - the epicentre of a farmers' agitation in Greater Noida - intensified on Wednesday with the Congress MP calling for the ouster of the Mayawati government over the issue, while the BJP said he was "exaggerating the situation and playing a fixed match" with the Uttar Pradesh chief minister.
"The flame we lit in Bhatta-Parsaul will be carried to every village of the state. We will show the Uttar Pradesh government what the Congress is capable of doing for the good of the poor and the downtrodden," Gandhi told a Congress convention in Varanasi.
Gandhi had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with a delegation of farmers from Bhatta-Parsaul and handed over pictures of ashes with bones, injured people and ransacked houses.
He had quoted villagers speaking of "mass murders, repression and rapes" by the police in the village.
As media reports and political opponents accused Gandhi of "exaggerating the situation" in his statement after he met Manmohan Singh, the Congress party tried to defend the Nehru family scion.
Party spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi told reporters in New Delhi that Gandhi has been misquoted and he had never said that "74 farmers were killed in Bhatta-Parsaul".
"Rahul Gandhi had merely stated what the villagers had told him at the meeting with prime minister," Dwivedi said in Varanasi, even as the party stuck to the youth leader's demand that the Uttar Pradesh government order a judicial probe into the allegations of men being burnt and women raped in the village.
"Whatever has come in the media in unfortunate. Nowhere did he (Rahul Gandhi) mention the number of 74 or 74 bodies. Rahul Gandhi had only said that at one place an ash heap of 70 foot area was there in which bones were found," Dwivedi told reporters.
The BJP dubbed Gandhi's claims on Bhatta-Parsaul an exaggeration and accused the Congress of kicking up a "phobia".
"Congress in the last decade has this policy, to kick up a phobia, even if they have to tell lies and make people believe it is a serious crisis," party spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman told IANS.
In his address at Varanasi, where he raised the farmers' issue and the Uttar Pradesh polls next year, Gandhi said: "I am prepared to go all over the state and also have plenty of time at hand to do so."
Refuting the state government's repeated claims about restoration of normal life in the violence-hit village where a farmer-police clash left four people dead earlier this month, Gandhi said: "The state government is claiming that everything is normal in the village, but the prohibitory orders under section 144 are still in place."
He also sought to know "why the government was shying away from ordering a judicial probe if it really believed in its own much emphasised claim that all was fine in Bhatta- Parsaul.
"Why is the village still deserted as locals fled the place because of police atrocities," he asked.
Gandhi also said that a local sub-divisional magistrate conveniently attributed the prevailing panic among the locals to infiltration by some Maoist groups in and around the village.
On the Congress' views on Gandhi's remarks over burning of men and rape of women of the village, Dwivedi said, "This is a matter of investigation. It should be investigated. If bones have been found, whose bones are these...should be found out. And if atrocities have taken place against women and they were even beaten up, why has it happened?"
Sitharaman said Gandhi should not exaggerate the situation.
"When there is wrong doing you have to speak, but not exaggerate.. talking about gang rape and mass graves. Haven't we heard all this in Gujarat? Now we are hearing this in UP," she said.
BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain demanded a probe by a joint parliamentary committee.
"The issue should be probed through a joint parliamentary committee. The parliament is above all, so the parliament should probe it," he said.
Alleging "match fixing" between Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Hussain said the exaggerations made by Rahul Gandhi had made the farmers' agitation directionless.
With the Congress convention continuing Thursday also, political observers feel the party will up the ante on the issue.
"So will the rival BSP and other parties too," said analyst Baljit Sharma.
"Whether the real issue - the demand of the farmers for higher compensation for the land acquired by the government - will be sidelined in the polticalisation of the issue is to be seen," he added.