A political controversy erupted on Friday after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that the Kerala-based Indian Union Muslim League was a “secular” party, reported ANI.

Gandhi had made the comment during an interaction with journalists at the National Press Club in Washington. The former Lok Sabha MP from Kerala’s Wayanad was asked about his party’s alliance with the Indian Union Muslim League at a time when he was talking about supporting secularism and democracy by opposing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

“Muslim League is a completely secular party, there is nothing non-secular about them,” Gandhi said. “I think the person [reporter] hasn’t studied the Muslim League.”

However, the BJP sought to equate the Indian Union Muslim League with the All India Muslim League, founded by Pakistan’s first Governor General Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Union minister Anurag Thakur alleged that the Indian Union Muslim League was guided by the same mindset as the All India Muslim League. “These are the same people who had stayed back after partition,” he claimed. “They advocated for Sharia law, wanted separate seats reserved for Muslims. It is Rahul Gandhi and the Congress that sees Hindu terrorism but feels Muslim League is secular.”

Minister of Earth Sciences Kiren Rijiju said that Gandhi’s comments were “extremely unfortunate”, ANI reported. “The party responsible for India’s partition on religious lines is a secular party?” he asked.

The Congress, however, pointed out that Jinnah’s outfit and the Indian Union Muslim League are two different parties.

“Are you illiterate?” Congress leader Pawan Khera asked in a tweet while responding to BJP’s Information Technology cell head Amit Malviya. “Don’t know the difference between Kerala’s Muslim League and Jinnah’s Muslim League? Jinnah’s Muslim League is the one with which your forefathers allied. The second Muslim League, with which the BJP had an alliance.”

Khera cited news reports from over ten years ago that said that the BJP had allied with the Indian Union Muslim League to retain power in Nagpur Municipal Corporation in 2012.

Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh said that Syama Prasad Mookerjee, regarded as one of the founding ideologues of the BJP, had supported Jinnah’s Muslim League in the government in West Bengal when MK Gandhi launched the Quit India movement.

He added: “SPM [Syama Prasad Mookerjee] was singularly responsible for the partition of Bengal.”

Meanwhile, the Indian Union Muslim League supported Gandhi’s statement saying that the Congress leader’s assertion came from his party’s experience.

“We look at it [Gandhi’s statement] with great responsibility,” party General Secretary PK Kunhalikutty said in a Facebook post. “The Muslim League’s close relationship with Congress dates back to the days of Indira Gandhi. Muslim League is the movement that took the political organisation of Muslim minority in post-independence India on 100% correct path.”