A controversy erupted on Saturday after India Today accessed pictures showing Mohammed Riyaz Attari, one of the accused persons in the killing of a tailor in Udaipur, with Bharatiya Janata Party leaders.

Riyaz and co-accused Ghouse Mohammed were arrested on June 29, a day after they killed the tailor, Kanhaiya Lal. A video showed both the men claiming responsibility for the crime as they brandish the cleavers used in the murder. They claimed they had killed Lal for supporting the disparaging comments about Prophet Muhammad made by former Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma.

On Friday, India Today said it found images that showed Irshad Chainwala, a member of the BJP’s Minority Morcha in Rajasthan, welcoming Riyaz after he returned from a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia in 2019.

Chainwala, who has been associated with the BJP for over a decade, told the news channel that Riyaz used to attend the saffron party’s events in Udaipur. He, however, said that Riyaz would oppose the BJP’s political ideology in private conversations.

He also told the news channel that Riyaz had attended BJP events with a man named Mohammad Tahir. Chainwala described Tahir as a party worker.

The minority cell worker added that the accused person had also been present in programmes that were attended by former Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria.

In one of his Facebook posts in November 2019, Tahir had identified Riyaz as a party worker, The Wire reported. Another post by Tahir in February 2019 showed Riyaz with the BJP’s Udaipur unit chief, Ravindra Shrimali.

A post from November 29, 2018, showed Riyaz posing with Kataria and Chainwala.

Riyaz is a BJP worker: Congress

While India Today’s initial report claimed Riyaz had tried to “infiltrate” the BJP, it later published another story saying it had not investigated whether he had formally joined the party.

At a press conference in Delhi, however, Congress media and publicity department chairperson Pawan Khera alleged that Riyaz was a BJP worker.

Khera made the allegations citing the same Facebook post in which Tahir had identified Riyaz as a BJP worker. “Is the Bharatiya Janata Party, through its spokespersons and leaders, trying to take advantage by polarising the country?” he asked.

Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee alleged that the BJP was linked to the tailor’s murder and that the party was unleashing propaganda to divide India.

Rajasthan Minister of State for Home Rajendra Singh Yadav alleged that Riyaz had been Kataria’s “polling agent”, reported The Indian Express.

BJP denies allegations

Kataria denied having links with Riyaz and said a criminal case should be filed against him if anyone felt he had committed a crime.

Kataria said that the BJP had an authorised minority cell and the image that had emerged showed Riyaz with Chainwala, who is the party’s minority cell worker.

“I have been in [their] programmes as well, and my presence at a minority cell programme is not a crime,” Kataria added, according to The Indian Express. “I would have certainly gone to the programme and who stands with me in a photo is not in my hands, or in anyone else’s.”

Shrimali also denied claims that he knew Riyaz and that the accused was associated with the BJP. He told The Wire that it was hard to keep track of people in a crowd.

Mohammad Sadiq Khan, state president of the BJP’s Minority Morcha, blamed the Ashok Gehlot-led Rajasthan government for Lal’s murder

“Anyone can have a photo with any leader,” Khan added. “It does not mean that he is a member of the BJP. He [Riyaz] might have gone to some programme of the party to carry out a recce and got photos clicked with local leaders. Since it is a normal trend to upload photos with leaders or celebrities on Facebook and other social media platforms, he might have also uploaded the photo.”