Nitish Kumar has been told by the BJP and its parent body that it doesn't need his advice on secularism, or who makes for a worthy Prime Minister. In response, the Bihar Chief Minister's party has warned that it's tempted to consider divorcing the BJP. Mr Kumar's Janata Dal United or JD(U) partners with the BJP in Bihar. It is also a senior member of the NDA coalition, which is led by the BJP.
The reason for the high-decibel quarrel is Gujarat Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Narendra Modi. Keen to check his prime ministerial aspirations, Mr Kumar made it clear yesterday that he will not accept Mr Modi as the NDA's candidate for Prime Minister. The Bihar Chief Minister did not name Mr Modi, but said a contender for PM must have "clean and secular" credentials. The communal riots in Gujarat in 2002 cast a long shadow over Mr Modi's political career, one he has not been able to escape. Today, Mr Kumar reminded the BJP after the Gujarat riots, then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had wanted to remove Mr Modi, but was stopped by other BJP leaders.
The BJP's parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), spoke up for Mr Modi today. "Will Nitish decide what sort of person makes a good PM?" Mohan Bhagwat of the RSS asked."To keep alive the Hindutva ideology, the Hindu 'samaaj' (society) should come together. And the country should have a Prime Minister who believes in that ideology or propounds that view," he said. In Delhi, BJP leader Balbir Punj said, "We want to make it clear that we have not given the authority to anyone to give certificates of secularism to individuals with us within the BJP."
Mr Kumar's party didn't take that lying down. "There can be no compromise on secularism, or social justice, whether we remain in the government or not" warned Shivanand Tiwari, a leader from the JD(U). Mr Tiwari also reminded the BJP of its past. "BJP had realised in 1996 itself that they cannot form a government in the country on the basis of their hardcore Hindutva agenda and, hence, NDA was formed," he said. "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," Mr Tiwari said in a transparent reference to Mr Modi.
The BJP's Bihar branch has through all this stood by Mr Kumar. The Deputy Chief Minister, Sushil Modi, who is from the BJP, said yesterday that he agrees that whoever is picked as the NDA's choice for Prime Minister should be acceptable to all "like former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee." The Chief Minister and his party have 117 MLAs, just five short of the majority. If they split up with the BJP, they will have no problem staying in power.
Mr Kumar has never been a fan of Mr Modi's - in recent years, he told the BJP that the 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.