Secularism is deeply ingrained in the soul of India where no communal agenda can succeed, feels Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose party is a key partner in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, which is often accused of inflaming religious sentiments at the time of elections.
"Communal agenda cannot succeed in the country in whose soul the principle of secularism is deeply ingrained. Be it Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians, a vast majority of Indians are genuinely secular," Kumar told PTI.
"The JD-U and BJP are constituents of the NDA, but hold divergent views on a variety of issues. BJP as a political party is free to hold its views on the Ram Temple and several other issues, but when we form a coalition government, no communal or contentious issue is on our agenda," he said.
Kumar, in a free wheeling interview in which he spoke about his relations with the saffron party, his projections about the impending Lok Sabha elections and his archrival Lalu Prasad, felt that RJD chief has become irrelevant in Bihar politics and accused him of being 'ungrateful' to the Congress, which stood by him through thick and thin.
Asked what he had to say about BJP which once again raked up the issues of Ram Temple, uniform civil code and Article 370 in its election manifesto, Kumar said, "BJP is at liberty to implement these only if it is able to get a majority on its own. These issues were not part of the common agenda for governance when we were in the government earlier."
Asked about the BJP trying to cash in on the issue of Varun Gandhi being booked under the National Security Act, he said, "Varun Gandhi or the temple-mosque issues are irrelevant in Bihar.
"What is important is that JD-U and BJP are successfully running a government in Bihar that has reopened several cases of Bhagalpur riots closed by the erstwhile RJD regime, secured compensation for the victims' families on the lines of those of the anti-Sikh riots in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's assassination and ordered pension for them. These are the collective decisions of our government of which BJP is a constituent," he said.
About his bete noire Lalu, Kumar said, "His electoral future along with that of Ramvilas Paswan is quite bleak. Lalu benefited from a broader alliance he had effected with LJP, Congress, NCP and CPI-M in the 2004 LS polls.
"Much water has flown down the Ganga since then. Lalu's alliance has contracted from five to just two. The UPA has split in Bihar and the NDA will definitely reap the benefit.
Prasad, Kumar said, depended heavily on his 'social engineering' factor while being "unmindful" of the ground reality.
"We cannot completely ignore the caste factor, but it is not as important as it used to be a few years ago. Even Lalu is now talking about development."
Asked what would be the fallout of the Congress' split with RJD and LJP, he said, "as is his habit, Lalu has been ungrateful to the Congress, which stood by him through thick and thin. Their break up will definitely have a psychological impact on the electoral fortunes of the UPA."
Whether there was a possibility of the JD-U forging a post-poll alliance with the Congress, as indicated by senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily, he said: "I think such comments are intended more to irritate Lalu and Paswan. When our government is running successfully in Bihar, where is the need for JD-U switching over to the UPA?"
On the prime ministerial ambitions of Lalu and Paswan, the JD-U leader said, "Their utterances are aimed at energising their diffident supporters and party workers. There is nothing more to it."
On media reports attributed to Paswan that he would have been a taller leader had he not been a Dalit, the chief minister said, "The reverse is true. Paswan would not have scaled the heights he did if he was not a dalit leader."
To a query that whether he would step out of the BJP's shadow after strengthening JD-U's position through the social engineering formula encompassing the extremely backward castes, maha-Dalits and Muslims, Kumar said, "The JD-U-BJP combine got the people's mandate to rule the state. I have the moral and political responsibility to honour that mandate."
Asked if he aspired to be prime minister in the event of a hung Lok Sabha, he replied: "I don't even think of it. I am fully aware of my limitations. L K Advani is NDA's prime ministerial candidate and we all want to see him become prime minister."
On allegations of being 'autocratic', particularly after party veteran George Fernandes was denied ticket to contest from Muzaffarpur, he said, "Our decision is in the interest of Fernandes. The media is watching his failing mental and physical health. Still, if somebody is so obstinate about contesting elections what can we do?"
On reports about discontent in the JD-U over his party's backing to L K Advani's bid for prime ministership with Rajya Sabha MP Ejaz Ali publicly suggesting snapping ties with the saffron party, Kumar said, "it is his individual opinion".
"Ali had no problem in taking BJP's support to become Rajya Sabha member. If he is so hurt he should have the guts to quit his parliamentary seat," Kumar said.
On accusations by former Bihar chief minister Jagannath Mishra, who quit the party accusing him of being anti-Brahmin, the chief minister said he was inducted into JD-U on the advice of party president Sharad Yadav and L K Advani despite reservations expressed by the state units of the two parties.
"Mishra has been criticising my government ever since the deluge caused by the Kosi in several north Bihar districts. The Kosi tragedy was a huge one and when the whole world came to Bihar's rescue, Mishra only did hair-splitting over relief. He had already made up his mind to part ways with us," he said.Stating that NDA's appeal among the masses has increased since the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, Kumar said: "I am confident that the electorate will wholeheartedly vote for the NDA in Bihar keeping in mind our development initiatives."