No one can issue fatwa against us, says BJP; JD(U) against ‘fanatic face’ as PM nominee

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s recent statement that the Bharatiya Janata Party should project a person with ‘secular’ credentials as prime ministerial nominee (a veiled reference to the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi), has escalated into a full fledged war of words between the sangh parivar and the Janata Dal (United).

JD(U) general secretary Shivananda Tiwari, a confidant of Mr. Kumar, said on Wednesday that if the BJP were to project a “fanatic face” as the National Democratic Alliance’s prime ministerial candidate, his party would have to walk out of the alliance.

The JD(U) and the BJP run a coalition government in Bihar. The BJP retaliated by saying that no one had the right to issue a fatwa (diktat) on its secular credentials.

Rare intervention

In a rare political intervention, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat has been reported as telling a meeting of RSS workers in Latur (Maharashtra) earlier in the day that Mr. Kumar’s statement was aimed at appeasing some vote banks, a reference to the JD(U) base among minorities in Bihar.

Mr. Bhagwat has been reported as saying, “Nitish Kumar has said the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate should be secular. He has made the statement so that his vote bank remains intact.”

It is unusual for the Sangh chief to speak in such candid terms on political persons and it indicates that the RSS is fully behind the Gujarat Chief Minister.

Quoting those present at the meeting, PTI said Mr. Bhagwat described Hinduism as an “all-inclusive” religion and wondered why a “Hinduwadi” should not become Prime Minister.

“Hinduism is the religion of humanism. You are right and we are also right, Hinduism follows this broad philosophy,” he was quoted as having said.

To keep alive the Hindu ideology, the Hindu ‘samaj’ should come together and the country should have a prime minister who believes in that ideology or propounds that view, he reportedly said.

Growing antipathy

The antipathy between Mr. Modi and Mr. Kumar is not new. The latter has kept a safe distance from the former and had refused to share the dais with him in the last Assembly elections in Bihar.

Emergence of the Gujarat Chief Minister to the centre stage of the BJP at the recent Mumbai National Executive and the talk of Mr. Modi as possible prime ministerial candidate has been a cause of concern to the JD(U).

Mr. Modi’s remarks last week, blaming “festering caste politics” in Bihar as the main reason of its backwardness, gave an opening to Mr. Kumar to hit back at his Gujarat counterpart.

In an interview to The Economic Times on Tuesday, Mr. Kumar let it be known in unambiguous terms that the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate should be someone with “secular credentials.”

Mr. Tiwari asserted that the NDA could not come to power with a “fanatic face” and his party would not compromise on principles on which it had joined the alliance in 1996.

Incidentally, it was Mr. Tiwari who echoed the sentiments of Mr. Kumar that a contest for the sake of contest in the Presidential election would serve no purpose.

Mr. Tiwari had claimed that surveys had shown that had the former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, dismissed the Modi government for the post-Godhra riots in 2002, the NDA would have still been in power and would not have lost the 2004 general elections.

JD(U) chief and NDA convener Sharad Yadav merely said, “Nitish Kumar is a responsible person. If he has said something on which somebody else has said something, what is the need for me to paraphrase it further.”

Needless controversy: Bulbir Punj

BJP Rajya Sabha member Balbir Punj said, “This is a needless controversy. Nobody has a right in this country to give fatwa as to who is secular and who is not. People have their opinions.”