A day after his Bihar counterpart and bete noire
Nitish Kumar took a swipe at him, questioning his secular credentials yet again, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has maintained a stoic silence on the controversy. As Mr Modi flagged off the annual Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath in Ahmedabad today, he ignored questions on Mr Kumar's controversial comment on Wednesday, wherein the latter made it clear that he would not accept the Gujarat Chief Minister as the NDA's candidate for the Prime Minister's post.
The Bihar Chief Minister did not name Mr Modi, but said a contender for PM must have "clean and secular" credentials. The reference to Mr Modi, though, was obvious who has been struggling to shed off the "communal" tag since the riots in Gujarat in 2002, the worst in post-Independence India. Mr Kumar also reminded the BJP that after the Gujarat riots, then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had wanted to remove Mr Modi, but was stopped by other party leaders.
His remarks drew an angry response from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as also its parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), both of who made it clear that they did not need lessons in secularism from him. The BJP leads the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition and allies with the the JD(U) both in the state and at the Centre.
Mr Modi, though, who in the past has been quick to retort to the JD(U) leader's jibes, preferred to stay silent, focusing instead on performing the traditional rituals during the annual procession of the deities. "I pray to Lord Jagannath that Gujarat which has been successful in attaining new heights of development with peace, unity and sadhbhavana
should prosper and progress more with the lord's blessing," he said.
The BJP strongman's restraint notwithstanding, the episode has highlighted the widening rift between him and Mr Kumar, both popular leaders of their respective parties and the NDA coalition. Mr Kumar, in particular, has not been a fan of Mr Modi's with the former telling the BJP that Chief Minister of Gujarat could not campaign for their alliance in Bihar for either the general or the state elections. Mr Modi recently made remarks at a rally about caste politics in Bihar. Mr Kumar retorted that he did not need sermons.