New Delhi, Apr 4 (PTI) The Madhya Pradesh government’s decision to accord Minister of State (MoS) status to five religious leaders created a controversy today with the opposition parties slamming the move as “unconstitutional” and reflective of religion-based appeasement by the BJP ahead of assembly polls.

However, the decision was defended by the state’s Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who said his government wanted to bring every section of the society to work towards development and welfare of the people. He received strong support from his party colleague and Union minister Uma Bharti, who said those being given MoS status were “saints and not criminals.” Ahead of the assembly elections due later this year, the BJP government in MP yesterday accorded the MoS status to five Hindu religious leaders — Narmadanand Maharaj, Harangues Maharaj, Computer Baba, Bhayyu Maharaj and Pandit Yogendra Mahant.

Two of them -Computer Baba and Yogendra Mahant announced today cancelation of their proposed campaign against an alleged scam in the MP government’s Narmada conservation programme.

Senior Congress leader Raj Babbar, said the move showed Chouhan’s “weakness” that he has to rely on religious leaders for victory in assembly polls.

“This shows weakness of Chouhan… He thinks they can win election, which seems impossible now, by relying on the saffron-clad religious leaders,” he said.

Left parties demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should clarify the “unconstitutional” decision by the state government while the AAP alleged that the move was “placatory” and to silence them (the religious leaders) from exposing the MP government.

“Mixing religion and governance, and mixing religion and politics is unconstitutional. It is not in accordance with our Constitution. MP government has been doing this in order to polarise not only people but also religion. The state government is doing it for electoral gains. The prime minister should reply how BJP-ruled states are doing such things,” CPI leader D Raja said.

The CPI(M), too, said it felt that the state government’s move was influenced by the “communal agenda” of BJP-RSS.

“We consider it totally wrong that they should be getting MoS status… This is completely unacceptable. This is another example of BJP-RSS trying to communalise an institution,” CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat said.

The AAP alleged that Chouhan was trying to cover up a scam through this move.

“Computer Baba had threatened to expose the scam of Narmada Yatra undertaken by Shivraj Singh Chouhan. This is why the chief minister has given Cabinet status to these babas. And if these babas don’t tell the truth then it will be a great disservice,” AAP’s Madhya Pradesh convenor Alok Agarwal said.

Rejecting the criticism, Chouhan told reporters that his government’s decision was an attempt to bring together each section of the society.

Backing Chouhan, Bharti said these religions leaders “are saints, not criminals” and they are all social workers.

“I congratulate Shivraj government for the decision. We (BJP) even has made a saint, Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the biggest state in the country. The Congress wants criminals to be given ministerial status and I strongly condemn their opposition to this decision,” Bharti asserted.

On March 31, the five religious leaders were appointed to a committee set up for the Narmada river conservation. As members of the committee, they are being given the MoS status, an official of the General Administration Department had said yesterday.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.