New Delhi: The BJP-JD(U) alliance appeared to be on the brink of collapse on Wednesday as a war of words between the leaders of the two parties over Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi intensified.
The JD(U) categorically said that it would walk out of the alliance if the NDA decides to project a "fanatic face" as its Prime Ministerial candidate for 2014 polls.
The BJP was quick to hit back, saying no one can give a fatwa on who is secular. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat also came in the defence of Modi, saying why shouldn’t a `Hinduwadi` become the Prime Minister.
In an interview to a leading business daily, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had on Tuesday said only a "secular" Prime Ministerial candidate should be projected by the NDA in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. His party general secretary Shivanand Tiwari today raised the anti-Modi pitch, stating NDA cannot come to power with a "fanatic face" and JD(U) will not compromise on principles on which it had joined the Opposition alliance in 1996.
He said that surveys indicate that had former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee dismissed the Modi government in Gujarat for the post-Godhra riots in 2002, NDA would have still been in power and not lost the 2004 General Elections.
"People who voted for BJP due to liberal face of Vajpayee went away from it after Gujarat riots and the floating votes went to Congress because people do not accept fanatic politics.
"Those people in BJP who want the party to come to power will have to realise that they cannot do it by putting a fanatic face in the front," Tiwari said in an apparent reference to Modi.
He said history tells that whenever India has been ruled by secular forces, it has developed and whenever Fascist forces have taken over, it has suffered. He gave the examples of Akbar and Ashoka on the one hand and Aurangzeb on the other.
Reacting to Tiwari`s statement, BJP leader 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."
Bhagwat was unsparing in his criticism of the Bihar Chief Minister, saying his remarks reflected "political opportunism".
"Nitish Kumar has said NDA`s Prime Ministerial candidate for 2014 elections should be secular. This shows political opportunism. He has made the statement so that his vote bank remains intact," he said.
Bhagwat also described Hinduism as an "all-inclusive" religion and wondered why a Hinduwadi should not become the Prime Minister.
In Delhi, RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav said Hindutva is the "true synonym" for secularism and is liberal as it embraces all other religions.
JD(U) chief and NDA convener Sharad Yadav declined to comment on the spat.
"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," was his brief remark on the issue.
Bihar BJP to avoid friction
Following the deepening of the rift, the Bihar BJP met tonight but decided to avoid friction with the JD(U) and tone down comments against Nitish Kumar.
The meeting at the residence of senior BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi discussed the political situation following the war of words between the party and the JD(U), sources said.
The closed-door meeting was attended by senior BJP leaders like state unit party chief C P Thakur, Health Minister Ashwani Chaube, Urban Development Minister Prem Kumar, state unit organizing secretary Nagendraji and other top functionaries.
Modi, who had virtually toed the chief minister`s line that the NDA`s PM candidate should be a secular person like former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had earlier said that the meeting was aimed at defusing tension among the two ruling coalition partners.
Congress milks situation
The Congress was quick to milk the situation, saying Nitish was right in calling for a secular candidate but rejected the charge that it was trying to wean away JD(U).
"He (Nitish) has rightly said that a country with such diverse cultures and beliefs needs a secular person at the top," AICC in-charge for Bihar Gulchain Singh Charak told reporters.
"We will definitely welcome if the JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar leaves NDA," he said but evaded queries on whether the party will welcome him in the UPA fold.
Asked whether UPA will invite Kumar`s party if it leaves NDA, Charak said that such decisions are only taken by the UPA chairperson and it has to be seen whether Kumar will agree to issues like Common Minimum Programme of UPA or its policies.
However, party`s official spokesperson Rashid Alvi said the Congress does not want to break any party or alliance or interfere in its internal matters.
"What is the internal tussle in NDA or who is made its Prime Ministerial candidate concerns the alliance or JD(U). Whether Nitish Kumar will leave NDA or remain in that alliance is their matter. Congress has nothing to do with that. We do not want to break any party or alliance or interfere in its internal matters," he said.
At the same time, Alvi quipped that "it is a useless exercise going on in the NDA as who should be the PM candidate as UPA-III will come to power in general elections 2014".
(With PTI inputs)