The first rally of Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, or INDIA, in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhopal in the first week of October has been cancelled, former Chief Minister Kamal Nath said on Saturday.

“It [Bhopal rally] is not going to happen,” Nath told journalists during a press conference where the Congress announced seven statewide public rallies starting on September 19. Congress General Secretary Randeep Surjewala said a final decision has not been taken on when and where the INDIA coalition rally will be held.

However, Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan claimed that the Opposition alliance had to cancel its rally as there is anger against recent comments on Sanatana Dharma, a term that some people use as a synonym for Hinduism.

Chouhan was referring to comments made by Tamil Nadu minister Udhayanidhi Stalin who said that Sanatana Dharma was akin to dengue and malaria and should be “eradicated”. Stalin’s comments were supported by his fellow Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP A Raja and Karnataka Congress leader Priyank Kharge.

“This is the anger of the public,” Chouhan said. “Sanatana Dharma was insulted and was called dengue and malaria. The people of Madhya Pradesh will not tolerate this. INDIA alliance must understand that it has hurt our faith and this won’t be tolerated at any cost. People of Madhya Pradesh are angry and they [INDIA members] were scared, therefore they cancelled their rally.”

However, Surjewala said that the BJP’s criticism of the INDIA coalition for remarks on Sanatana Dharma is a diversion tactic to avoid answering corruption allegations against them.

“Those people, including Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi, use such language because they can’t give answer to the corruption in Madhya Pradesh,” he said. “Why doesn’t the PM answer why the patwari exam paper was sold for Rs 15 lakh? Why doesn’t he talk about when the Vyapam scam accused will be given a sentence? Why doesn’t he talk about the 250 scams their government committed in 18 years?”

He also said that through its Jan Aakrosh Yatra in the state, Congress leaders will cover 11,400 kilometers including all 230 Assembly seats of Madhya Pradesh in 15 days.

“Today on that very same Sanatana an attack has been called, that’s why this Jan Aakrosh Yatra has been planned,” Surjewala said. “Sanatana Dharma and traditions will continue to remain even after we are gone. Bharatiya Rashtriya Congress will propagate this tradition through this yatra.”

Meanwhile, Nath said that the BJP is raking up the Sanatana Dharma controversy to keep the voters distracted from real issues.

“Remember the 2019 elections, nationalism, surgical strike,” Nath said. “How they diverted, how they changed the agenda, discussion. It’s like they have taken a contract of religion. If I take part in some religious programme in Chhindwara, they get a stomach ache. We go to a temple because of our belief and not to bring it to the political stage, it should not be brought.”

The BJP has also alleged that the Madhya Pradesh Congress is undergoing an internal tussle over its chief minister candidate as senior leader Digvijaya Singh’s photograph was missing from the Jan Aakrosh Yatra posters, reported The Indian Express.

However, Surjewala said that Singh is a senior leader of the party and that he and Nath decided on the matters related to the public rally.