New Delhi: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Wednesday upped the ante in the race for the BJP-led NDA's prime ministerial candidate by directly targeting Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Nitish claimed that Modi's "mishandling" of the 2002 Gujarat riots led to him (Modi) almost being sacked by the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as he had not followed 'Raj Dharma'.
"Vajapyee was not happy the way Modi handled Gujarat," said Nitish while adding that Modi failed to control the 2002 Gujarat riots after the Sabarmati Express train burning incident at Godhra, which led to the NDA losing the Lok Sabha elections in 2004.
"Modi's mishandling of Gujarat cost NDA power in 2004," said Nitish.
Nitish also stood by his comments on a secular Prime Minister. He said, "I stick to my comments about need for a secular Prime Minister."
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, too, joined the war of words on Wednesday by backing Modi as BJP's prime ministerial candidate and took on Nitish. Bhagwat said the country should have Prime Minister who propounds Hindutva.
"To keep alive the Hindutva ideology, the Hindu samaaj should come together. And the country should have a Prime Minister who believes in that ideology or propounds that view," said Bhagwat. The RSS chief also slammed Nitish and said that he is scared to call himself a Hindu.
In response to the RSS chief's statements, JD(U) leader Shivanand Tiwari had come out in support of Nitish, saying that NDA lost the 2004 and the 2009 Lok Sabha elections as the secular votes went to the UPA. Clarifying that his party is a partner of the BJP and not of Modi. he said, "We have an alliance with the BJP and not with Modi. Whether we remain in the NDA or not, we will not compromise on secularism."
The JD(U) reacted to the RSS remarks by saying that it has narrowed down the ideology of Hindusim and said that the RSS's support comes as no surprise considering that Modi himself has a RSS backgorund.
Tiwari claimed that despite the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in favour of removing Modi as the Chief Minister of Gujarat following the 2002 riots, but the move was opposed by several senior BJP leaders.
The war leads to few poignant questions:
Why is Nitish Kumar raising questions about the PM candidate from NDA's side at this stage?
Is Nitish-Modi spat on the verge of splitting the NDA?
Is Nitish Kumar just indulging in shadow boxing with Modi to position himself as the most acceptable leader of NDA?
Why did the RSS chief jump into the spat between Modi and Nitish when he usually doesn't speak openly on political matters?
- RSS slams Nitish, says PM should be pro-Hindutva
- Choose between Modi as PM or us: JD(U) warns BJP