Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot today slammed the BJP over "love jihad", accusing the ruling party of "manufacturing a word to divide the nation and disturb communal harmony".
Mr Gehlot's comment comes as more and more BJP-ruled states announce plans for laws against what many call a right-wing conspiracy theory about relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women - one that the centre has said "is not defined in law".
Mr Gehlot also accused the BJP of violating the Constitution and citizens' personal liberty in choice of marital partners. In tweets posted Friday morning he also accused the centre of "creating an environment where consenting adults (are at) the mercy of state power".
"'Love jihad' is a word manufactured by the BJP to divide the nation and disturb communal harmony. Marriage is a matter of personal liberty... bringing a law to curb it is completely unconstitutional and will not stand in any court of law. 'Jihad' has no place in love," he said.
Love Jihad is a word manufactured by BJP to divide the Nation & disturb communal harmony. Marriage is a matter of personal liberty, bringing a law to curb it is completely unconstitutional & it will not stand in any court of law. Jihad has no place in Love.— Ashok Gehlot (@ashokgehlot51) November 20, 2020
"They are creating an environment in the nation where consenting adults would be at the mercy of state power. Marriage is a personal decision and they are putting curbs on it, which is like snatching away personal liberty," the Chief Minister added.
Mr Gehlot then described calls against "love jihad" as a "ploy to disrupt communal harmony, fuel social conflict and disregard constitutional provisions...".
It seems a ploy to disrupt communal harmony, fuel social conflict & disregard constitutional provisions like the state not discriminating against citizens on any ground.— Ashok Gehlot (@ashokgehlot51) November 20, 2020
Shortly afterwards the BJP hit back, with Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat claiming that "thousands of young women" had been trapped because of "love jihad". Mr Shekhawat declared that if it were a matter of personal liberty, then women should be "free to keep their religion".
"Dear Ashokji, Love Jihad is a trap that has thousands of young women believing the marriage is a personal affair, where later it turns out it isn't. Also, if it is a matter of personal liberty, then why are the women not free to keep their maiden name or religion?
Dear Ashok ji, Love Jihad is a trap that has thousands of young women believing the marriage is a personal affair, where later it turns out it isn't.— Gajendra Singh Shekhawat (@gssjodhpur) November 20, 2020
Also, if it is a matter of personal liberty, then why are the women not free to keep their maiden name or religion?
Mr Shekhawat also took a swipe at the Congress, suggesting that Mr Gehlot's support of "this act of deceit ("love jihad") under the garb of personal liberty" was a display of communal agenda.
"Ashokji, manufacturing terms, riots and hatred is a Congress prerogative. The BJP has believed in Sabka Vikas hence will ensure our women folk are not subject to injustice of any kind," he added.
Ashok ji, manufacturing terms, riots and hatred is a Congress prerogative. The BJP has believed in Sabka Vikas hence will ensure our women folk are not subject to injustice of any kind.— Gajendra Singh Shekhawat (@gssjodhpur) November 20, 2020
"Love jihad" is a pejorative used by right-wing groups to target relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women, which, they say, is a ruse to forcibly convert the women.
Relationships between Hindu men and Muslim women are usually ignored.
It is a term not recognised by the centre. In February, the Union Home Ministry told parliament that "love Jihad is not defined in law" and no such case had been reported by central agencies.
That, however, has not stopped a number of BJP-ruled states from talking up what many feel is a right-wing conspiracy theory, and insisting their governments will push through "anti-love jihad" legislation.
Earlier today, news agency ANI quoted an official from the Home Department of the Uttar Pradesh government as saying a "strict law against 'love jihad' will soon be brought in the state".
On Tuesday the Haryana government made a similar declaration. Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij's comments came hours after his Madhya Pradesh counterpart said his government was also planning such a law and those found guilty could face up to five years of rigorous imprisonment.
The shrillest voice in this campaign, though, has been that of Uttar Pradesh's Yogi Adityanath.
Ahead of Assembly bypolls on November 3, he cited an Allahabad High Court order on religious conversion for marriage and invoked "Ram naam satya" - a reference to a Hindu funeral chant seen by many as a warning of violence - to threaten "those who... play with our sisters' respect".
But in UP, the one BJP state in which police are probing so-called "love jihad", the cases are rapidly coming undone, an NDTV investigation has found.
With input from ANI