The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will make the "harassment and torture" of its jailed young leader Varun Gandhi a poll issue, party president Rajnath Singh declared on Monday after meeting him in a prison.
"We back Varun, who is being harassed and tortured by the state government. Let the law take it own course. But we want to make it clear we will support Varun politically and legally," Rajnath Singh told reporters after meeting Varun Gandhi, the BJP's likely candidate from Pilibhit constituency of the state.
The young BJP leader is behind bars for his alleged inflammatory speeches. The Uttar Pradesh government slapped the National Security Act (NSA) against him for "inciting violence" in Pilibhit before his arrest on March 29.
Rajnath Singh said the party would take the issue to the "people of India".
He alleged that Varun had been falsely implicated. "The CDs showing Varun making hate speeches are doctored. He has been saying this. Action against Varun has been taken in haste. Before taking any action against Varun, the government must have conducted a thorough inquiry."
Police officials said the meeting between Varun Gandhi and Rajnath Singh lasted for about 30 minutes. Unwilling to take any chance, the district administration in Etah said the meeting was videographed for security reasons.
"A doctor had gone along with Rajnath Singh to meet Varun after taking the necessary permission from the district administration," police inspector Nawaab Singh said.
The BJP president later addressed a gathering at the Ramlila Ground in Etah, 300 km from the state capital Lucknow.
"Varun's health is deteriorating. But his mental strength is high. That is enough for us to fight against the state government," Rajnath Singh told the gathering.
"It is shocking and surprising that Varun is being treated badly than hardcore criminals in the jail."
The Uttar Pradesh government on March 29 invoked the NSA against Varun Gandhi - the BJP's Lok Sabha candidate from Pilibhit - for his hate speeches and the mob violence that erupted a day before his arrest.
On April 1, he was shifted from Pilibhit to Etah jail due to "security concerns" cited by the state government.
Several party leaders, including M Venkaiah Naidu, Kalraj Mishra and BJP state president Ramapati Ram Tripathi, have met Varun Gandhi in the jail.
Earlier in the day, a large number of BJP workers took to the streets in Etah district, demanding immediate release of Varun Gandhi.
"Despite the section 144 that prohibits illegal assembly of persons clamped in the district, hundreds of party activists converged outside the Etah jail and shouted slogans in favour of Varun Gandhi," police inspector Nawaab Singh said.
However, with the assistance of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and the police, the activists were dispersed and the route along the jail was cordoned off, Singh said.