NEW DELHI: The BJP Monday latched on to Rahul Gandhi's reference to terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammad's head as "Masood Azhar ji" to throw "Rahul loves terrorists" barb at the Congress chief, as the opposition party hit back accusing its rival of deliberately twisting his comments made with sarcasm.
Addressing a meeting of Congress workers here, Gandhi attacked the BJP, saying, "These people with 56-inch chest, you would recall, in their previous government, the current National Security Advisor Ajit Doval went in an aircraft with Masood Azhar ji and handed over Masood Azhar there in Kandahar."
Gandhi noted it was Azhar who was responsible for the killing of 40 CRPF soldiers in Pulwama in Kashmir on Feb 14.
Azhar's group JeM has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Targeting the Congress chief, BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "Come on Rahul Gandhi Ji! Earlier it was the likes of Digvijay Ji who called Osama Ji and Hafiz Saeed Sahab. Now you are saying 'Masood Azhar Ji'. What is happening to Congress Party?" Prasad said Gandhi has caused huge pain to families of martyrs and embarrassed the country with his comments.
Gandhi's remarks showed the Congress can go to any extent for votes, he said.
"The Congress, on one hand, insults our armed forces and Indian Air Force by seeking evidence of their valour but honours a murderer, a terrorist like Azhar," Prasad said.
The BJP leader added India is working to have Azhar declared a global terrorist but Pakistan will now say even Indian leaders are giving the JeM chief respect.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala accused the BJP and a section of media of deliberately twisting Gandhi's remarks.
"Two questions to BJP & select Bhakt Media, who deliberately seek to twist the 'Masood' sarcasm of Rahulji- 1) Did NSA Doval not escort & release terrorist Masood Azhar in Kandahar? 2) Did Modiji not invite Pak's rogue ISI to investigate Pathankot terror attack?".
Another Union minister Smriti Irani also took a swipe at Gandhi.
"What is common between Rahul Gandhi and Pakistan? Their love for terrorists. Please note Rahul ji's reverence for terrorist Masood Azhar - a testimony to #RahulLovesTerrorists," she tweeted.
In turn, Surjewala used the hashtag "BJP loves terrorists".
Azhar and two other terrorists, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, were released from an Indian prison in 1999 by the then BJP-led government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in exchange for the passengers held hostage on board IC-814 flight hijacked to Kandahar in Afghanistan.
Azhar formed JeM after his release from jail.
Since then, JeM, based in Pakistan, has been involved in terrorist attacks in India.
The group was responsible for the attack on Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, in which nine security personnel and officials were killed.
On January 2, 2016, a heavily armed group of JeM attacked the Pathankot air base in which seven security personnel were killed.
JeM also carried out the attack on Uri brigade headquarters on September 18, 2016, killing 17 soldiers and injuring 30 others.
And the latest Pulwama attack.