Ghani, dismayed at the description, responded: “Honestly, I am sad. How can they be so cruel? I have served this state for 18 years as a menteri besar and, throughout those years, I have treated every Johorean I came across fairly, regardless of his ethnicity.
“On what grounds are they now calling me a racist?” he said at his home yesterday.
This is supposedly because he is an Umno member and a “racist at heart”, said DAP vice-chairman M. Kulasegaran at a ceramah comprising mainly Indian voters in Taman Kluang Barat on Monday night.
Ghani was, however, unperturbed, saying he was confident that voters in the Gelang Patah parliamentary constituency would not misjudge his character based on DAP’s slander.
"I don't think Johoreans who have known me all these years will believe their (DAP leaders') accusation that I am a racist."
DAP pulled out the race card after claiming that Ghani, who faces DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang in Gelang Patah, was trying to scare Chinese voters by suggesting that Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang would be the prime minister if the opposition took over Putrajaya.
However, the race-card ploy is typically DAP, perfected over the years to smear rivals while conveniently side-stepping the party's internal prejudices.
This was seen in its party election last year, where Malays had failed to win a seat in the central executive committee.
DAP's race-card ruse is made more scathing after BN placed an Umno candidate in a Chinese-majority area (Gelang Patah), also a first in the party's history.
Ghani wasn't alone in debunking DAP's tactics: prominent community, non-governmental organisation and political leaders in Johor have come to his defence.
First to Ghani's defence was Gelang Patah MCA chief Jason Teoh, who brushed off any grounds for DAP to make such accusations.
"In my constituency, Ghani granted four pieces of land to build four Chinese primary schools, which has over the years produced more than 10,000 pupils.
"Residents, particularly the Chinese community, do not have any problem when it comes to their children's schooling needs.
"Ghani also recently presented land titles to 219 owners in Kampung Poh Chee Leng in Gelang Patah who had been living without grants for 40 years.
"I don't need to comment whether Ghani is a racist. From what he has done, a discerning voter should know the answer."
Others reinforced Teoh's vindication.
Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Association of Malaysia president Teh Kee Sin made it clear that Ghani was not biased or he would not have stayed as menteri besar for so long.
Teh described Ghani as instrumental in building an environment conducive for economic development with the vision and mission to develop Johor for everyone.
Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association president Lim Ik Kim described Ghani as well-liked and well-respected by the Chinese community, always ready to lend support to anyone.
"He has practised moderation as menteri besar and has promoted Chinese cultural activities, temple programmes and sports."
The Johor Temple of Fine Arts (TFA) is another NGO that has enjoyed Ghani's support over the years, depicting him as an arts lover who has monitored TFA's development.
TFA committee member S. Gangatharan said: "I met him 15 years ago when we were facing problems in Jalan Dapat because a resident was against the plan to set up our centre in a residential area."
Ghani, he said, had immediately announced a RM500,000 contribution to develop a new three-storey building on TFA's existing site.
Johor Baru Festival of Arts director Suzie Yap praised Ghani and Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad, the former member of parliament for Johor Baru, for the success of the annual arts festival, which has garnered world recognition since the inaugural event in 2004.
She said with Ghani's help, RM200,000 was raised in the last few years, which had permitted the festival to host programmes featuring performances of various races at the Bukit Timbalan building for free.