New Delhi: Seeking to allay the concerns of their core constituencies following the move to ally with BJP, Dalit leaders Ram Vilas Paswan and Ramdas Athavale on Saturday asserted that they have "not merged" with the saffron outfit but joined the NDA camp as per a Common Minimum Programme.
Admitting that people from the minority community do have reservations about Narendra Modi, LJP chief Paswan said that his party`s commitment to secularism and socialism remains unchanged.
The alliance with BJP happened as "there was no option left for us" after Congress and RJD "humiliated" the party, he said.
"There are no two opinions that we made last-ditch efforts to remain within UPA. (But) when I felt I was not required there, I went with the party decision to look for an alternative.
"LJP`s parliamentary board asked me whether my personal emotions were more important than the interests of the party. (But) it is also a fact that the decision to ally with BJP had my nod," he said.
Detailing the circumstances which forced him to join NDA, Paswan said that while RJD leaders were talking about giving only two or three seats to LJP, despite his best efforts and a meeting with Sonia Gandhi, Congress did not take the initiative to sew together a workable Congress-RJD-LJP alliance in Bihar.
LJP general secretary Abdul Khaliq and himself till the last moment kept withstanding "pressure" from the rank and file of the party for aligning with BJP, Paswan said.
He also alleged that secular parties like RJD, Congress and JD(U) had not agreed to support his demand for a Muslim chief minister in Bihar after the February, 2005, Assembly polls.
Paswan, who was also a minister in the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said that while a number of measures for Dalit welfare were taken by that regime, not much had happened under UPA.
He said that BJP has promised to fulfil the long-pending demands of Dalits for a Scheduled Caste Sub Plan and promotion in reservation.
"When we put these demands before BJP, we got a positive response and hence the decision (to ally with BJP)," he said.
Athavale said that his Republican Party of India would "walk out" of NDA if attempts were made to induct Raj Thackeray`s MNS into the BJP-led alliance.
"If a decision is taken to bring Thackeray into NDA, RPI will walk out of it. There is no need in Maharashtra to bring Raj Thackeray," he said.
Former BJP chief Nitin Gadkari had met Thackeray in Maharashtra a few days back and asked him not to divide the anti-UPA votes.
NDA ally Shiv Sena has attacked Gadkari over the meeting.
Hitting out at UPA, Athavale said he had aligned with BJP
to defeat Congress and the government led by it.
"We are with the BJP and NDA as per a Common Minimum Programme," he said.
Paswan, who was with NDA till 2002, said that in 12 years, a cycle comes full circle and recalled how a number of socialist parties, who were anti-Congress, had later joined hands with the party.
"One does not become communal or secular by just sporting a cap. I had talked about the diversity of Indian society when I shared the dais with Modi in Bihar.
"(I) told him he has to wear a crown of thorns as he will have to address the concerns of minorities and marginalised sections," he said.
Paswan also pointed out that Modi had made no issue when BJP President Rajnath Singh had told a gathering of Muslims that if any mistake and shortcoming occurred on their part, the party would apologise to them with their heads bowed.
"Yes, people from minority (communities) have reservations about Modi. But if Modi says he will work according to the Constitution, then where is the word `communalism` in our Constitution?
"How long can we stop the wheel of time? Who are we to keep talking about communalism and secularism?" he asked.
The remarks by Paswan and Athavale came at a joint press conference organised under the banner of National Dalit Front at the LJP chief`s residence.
Dalit activist Udit Raj, who recently joined BJP, was also present on the occasion.
Slamming the parties which call BJP communal, Raj said, "Parties join hands with BJP but start calling it communal the moment they leave it. When they are together, the same BJP becomes secular. The definition of secularism will have to be changed."
Showering praises on the Modi-led BJP, he said the party`s commitment to Dalit issues was greater than that of Congress.
"There is a need to change the misconception that BJP is anti-Dalit and anti-tribal. The reason behind Dalit leaders like us joining and supporting BJP is that the party gives greater participation to the community," he said.