The Election Commission has expressed "surprise" and "disappointment" over the Bharatiya Janata Party's decision to hold protests against denial of permission to its prime ministerial pick Narendra Modi for a rally in Varanasi's Beniyabagh area on Thursday.
Hours ahead of his "protest" roadshow in Varanasi, Narendra Modi tweeted on Thursday, "It is unfortunate that EC is not concerned about the institution's neutrality & that is why our Karyakartas have to embark on a Satyagraha."
He also appealed to his party workers to maintain peace: "I appeal to my Karyakarta sisters & brothers to maintain peace & ensure that people do not face any difficulty."
He also tweeted: "My profound apologies to Ganga Maa for not being able to perform Aarti today. Wish these people know that a Mother's love is above politics."
Modi is contesting from the seat, which goes to polls on May 12. The BJP had written to chief election commissioner VS Sampath and demanded the removal of the electoral officer, district magistrate Pranjal Yadav.
In a letter to senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley on Wednesday, the EC said the protests were announced despite the poll body trying to resolve the matter "in accordance with law and the ground situation".
Principal secretary in the EC, RK Srivastava, said while earlier a BJP representative Vidyasagar Rai had requested for an alternative site on May 6, Jaitley later urged the returning officer not to process the permission.
"In the whole matter, the Commission decided not to go by the version conveyed by the district magistrate alone, but consulted the UP chief secretary and the DGP, who endorsed the security and suitability aspects including capacity of the ground, raised by the district officials.
"You will appreciate that the Commission cannot overlook the security concerns expressed by competent authorities," the letter said.
The letter said the Commission has given prompt attention to any issue raised by political parties, including BJP, over the ongoing elections.
"Hence the Commission is surprised and disappointed that your party has chosen to hold protests over the matter, which was being sought to be resolved in accordance with law and ground realities," it said.
Accusing the EC of being a "mute spectator" to returning officer Yadav's "highly partisan" role in denying permission for the rally on Thursday, the BJP had demanded his immediate removal.
In a strong rebuttal, the EC said it did not accept any "insinuation or inaction" in this regard and would take action against the officer if he was found guilty of "partisan" behaviour.
"The commission is getting all facts about Varanasi and will do everything under the law and its mandate to conduct free and fair polls," it said in a rare statement.
Jaitley had also announced he and other senior leaders would sit on a dharna outside the Banaras Hindu University at 11am on Thursday in protest. The BJP leaders will also protest outside the EC office in New Delhi.
Jaitley said the district magistrate was making "unbelievable" excuses to "deny" security approval for the rally, which was a right of any candidate.
"The returning officer has lied... This is not a banana republic. I have written three letters to the EC. We will hold protests at Lanka Gate outside BHU," Jaitley said.
The DM, however, late on Wednesday allowed Modi to attend a 'Ganga pujan' ceremony at the Dashashwamedh Ghat in the temple town.
Yadav also approved Modi's meeting at Surya Hotel with 150 eminent persons of the society and a public meeting at the Chota Cutting memorial ground.