- He met them at jail in Bihar's Nawada, also visited their family
- Says they "helped maintain peace", can't call them rioters
- Another minister sparked row earlier by felicitating lynching convicts
A second Union Minister, Giriraj Singh, has landed in a controversy after a show of support for a set of riots-accused leaders, whom he visited at a jail in Bihar's Nawada. Mr Singh met the jailed right-wing leaders days after his cabinet colleague Jayant Sinha was photographed felicitating eight men held guilty of killing a meat trader in the name of cow protection in neighbouring Jharkhand. After the visit, Mr Singh attacked the government of Nitish Kumar, who hit back, saying he will not tolerate communalism.
Mr Singh also met the family of an accused of clashes in Nawada that took place after an idol was vandalised in March. "They've always helped maintain peace in all situations. How can you call them rioters? The administration should see if they really incited violence," he said.
After the Ram Navmi clashes of April 2017, the police lodged cases against some leaders in several districts. Bajrang Dal's Jitendra Pratap and VHP's Kailash Vishwakarma were arrested four days ago for their alleged role in the clashes.
The BJP has already expressed its unhappiness over the crackdown on scores of leaders over the violence that started after religious posters were found torn.
After the visit, Mr Singh attacked the Nitish Kumar government, accusing it of witch-hunt. "It seems to have been ingrained in the administration and government that there can only be communal harmony if Hindus are oppressed and it is unfortunate. I appeal to the administration and the society that they forget this view," he added.
Jayant Sinha has been battling a controversy after photographs emerged last week that showed him garlanding men who received life sentences for the murder of a 55-year-old meat trader in June last year. The men were taken to meet Mr Sinha after their sentences were suspended and they were released on bail.
Mr Sinha, who has since been under an unsparing opposition attack, said he condemns violence and rejects vigilantism, but has "misgivings" about the fast-track court verdict.
Giriraj Singh and the Chief Minister have not been the best of friends -- especially after Mr Kumar made it clear that he was displeased with the Union Minister's comment following the victory of Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal in the by-elections in Araria. Triggering massive controversy, Mr Singh had said it would turn the constituency into a "hub of terror".
Days later, Mr Kumar pointedly said he would not compromise with those "trying to divide the society". "I'm for complete communal and social peace... I want to make it clear that this country will march ahead on the basis of love, compassion and communal harmony," he said.
At meeting of his party today, Mr Kumar hit back at Giriraj Singh. Mentioning that a Central minister had gone to visit some leaders in jail, Mr Kumar said he would not spare anyone who tries to create communal disturbance in the state. "There is no question of any compromise with corruption, crime and communalism... our government doesn't believe in shielding or framing anyone," he said.
Last month, Giriraj Singh weighed in when Mr Kumar's party leaders pitched to make him the face of the NDA in the state in next year's assembly elections.
Giriraj Singh and BJP general secretary Rajendra Singh indicated that Nitish Kumar is not indispensable. Even without him, the BJP-led alliance was capable of contesting Bihar's 40 Lok Sabha seats and like 2014, ending up with 29 seats, they hinted.