Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has said that the state’s former Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare had never used the phrase “Hindu terror”, PTI reported. He claimed the previous Congress governments at the Centre and in Maharashtra had coined the term as part of the party’s vote-bank politics.

“Karkare had never ever used the ‘Hindu terror’ word,” Fadnavis told reporters in Indore on Monday. “This word had been used by three persons: Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, the then Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and NCP [Nationalist Congress Party] chief Sharad Pawar.”

Fadnavis said the Bharatiya Janata Party had distanced itself from its Bhopal candidate Pragya Singh Thakur’s criticism of Karkare because it considered him a martyr, “not only of Maharashtra but the entire country because he laid down his life for motherland’s security”.

Thakur was investigated by Karkare for her alleged role in the 2008 Malegaon blasts. A Congress-led government was in power at the time. Karkare, who investigated the charges against her, died a few months later in the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai.

Soon after being named the BJP’s candidate from Bhopal last month, Pragya Thakur claimed that Karkare died because she had cursed him. The BJP distanced itself from the comments, and Thakur later withdrew her remarks and apologised. The Election Commission found the comments unwarranted, and banned Thakur from campaigning for 72 hours last week.

Digvijaya Singh, a former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, is the Congress’ candidate from Bhopal, which will vote on May 12. The BJP has targeted him for using the “Hindu terror” phrase, though he denies it. Senior BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, have defended Thakur’s candidature, saying it is a symbol in response to all those who have demeaned a great civilisation and floated the theory of “Hindu terror”.

“There was a time when terrorism was at its peak,” Fadnavis said on Monday. “The minorities felt that they were the only ones being targeted. They had anger against then Congress and NCP government. The government should have either justified their action or fix the problem. The Congress and NCP government started ‘Hindu terrorism’ as a reply to this. They propagated the theory of Hindu terrorism. They released some people but arrested Pragya and some others to label Hindus as terrorists.”