The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) faced deeper embarrassment Wednesday when Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat snubbed Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar over his attack on potential PM candidate Narendra Modi.
Reacting to Kumar’s “secular-face-for-PM” pitch on Tuesday, Bhagwat asked why a Hindutva face should not lead the country. The JD(U) retorted that the NDA should not be led by a “fanatic face”. The Gujarat CM has not reacted to Kumar’s remarks so far.
The RSS chief’s assertion that the next PM should be a Hindutva proponent comes at a time when the NDA is battling dissension over whom to back for president. Key alliance partner Shiv Sena has already jumped the gun by coming out in support of UPA candidate Pranab Mukherjee.
While the JD(U)'s stand against Modi is a challenge to the RSS adherence to Hindutva - making Kumar's statements unpalatable to the hardline saffron constituency - the Bihar CM sees overt criticism of Modi as part of a careful projection of himself as a pro-minority leader and the only "secular" face in the NDA. The question is how the alliance will handle such political complexities.
"What is the harm in having a pro-Hindutva Prime Minister? It is none of his (Kumar's) business to decide who is secular or not," Bhagwat told RSS volunteers in Latur, Maharashtra.
RSS leader Ram Madhav explained: "Hindutva is the true synonym for secularism. It is a secular, liberal and all-embracing idea." The RSS chief's remark, however, came as a shot in the arm for Modi.
At a time when the BJP has many prime ministerial hopefuls, Bhagwat's remark strengthens Modi's standing by making Hindutva its crucial qualification for a PM candidate. However, Sangh insiders hinted that BJP chief, Nitin Gadkari is high on the RSS's list of PM candidates, with sections of the organisation wary of Modi's dictatorial ways.
JD(U) leader Shivanand Tiwari rushed to Kumar's defence, saying those in the BJP who want the party to return to power should realise that projecting a "fanatic face" wouldn't work. He claimed that the NDA lost the 2004 elections because of the Gujarat riots two years earlier.
While the BJP did not hold an official press briefing, its Gujarat in-charge Balbir Punj said, "None in this country has the right to issue fatwas as to who is secular or not."