Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday said Union minister Giriraj Singh's meeting with the jailed Bajrang Dal activists in Nawada district was "not acceptable" and made it clear that his government would not tolerate any attempts to disturb communal harmony in the state.
Although there was no official word on the matter from the Bharatiya Janaat Party, Kumar's alliance partner in the state, to which Singh also belongs, a couple of leaders from the party adopted a stance at variance with that of the chief minister.
Singh, who represents Nawada in the Lok Sabha, had on Saturday called on the jailed activists, one of whom was arrested recently in connection with a communal flare-up that took place last year, and the remaining were held while trying to enforce a bandh in protest.
His visit to the Bajrang Dal activists in the jail came close on the heels of Union minister Jayant Sinha felicitating eight convicts in the Ramgarh lynching case after they came out of prison on bail in Jharkhand.
The firebrand BJP leader had told reporters on Sunday at the house of one of the jailed Bajrang Dal activist that he saw the arrests as an "attempt to suppress the Hindus", even when the other side was at fault and remarked that he "felt helpless" at not being able to do anything in this regard though his party was in the ruling coalition in the state.
When asked about the episode, Kumar said, "This was not acceptable. One may have an opinion about anything and may express it at a proper place. But an open display of sympathy for those whom the administration has found guilty on some counts, is not proper. If someone appears to have been wrongly arrested, one should move the court against it."
The chief minister was flanked by deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi when he was interacting with media on the sidelines of his weekly public interaction programme 'Lok Samvad'.
Asked about Singh's remarks with allegedly communal overtones, Kumar said, "There are many attempts in today's society to disturb social harmony. People have given up decorum in speech. But our government has always been committed to maintaining communal harmony and no attempts to disturb the same will be encouraged, or even tolerated."
On Sunday, soon after the national executive meeting of Kumar's Janata Dal-United held in New Delhi, the party's national secretary general K C Tyagi had also reportedly criticised Singh's action.
Meanwhile, when asked about the JD-U's displeasure over the episode, BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra said at a press conference, "In a democracy, everybody has a right to ask questions.....elected representatives, those who are in public life, do have to meet many people."
Patra, however, evaded a direct reply to queries about Singh's allegation that the arrests were wrongful and aimed at "suppressing the Hindus", saying "law will take its own course. Nobody is above the law.....we work with the sole mantra -- sabka saath sabka vikas".
The BJP spokesperson also trained his guns at the opposition RJD-Congress combine, pointing out that many Congress leaders met Lalu Prasad "with bouquets" even after the Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo was convicted in many cases and that the RJD chief himself maintained close relations and remained in regular touch with jailed don-turned-politician Mohd Shahabuddin.
BJP MLC Sanjay Paswan told some regional news channels, separately, "Kumar is our highly respectable leader. But it has been a problem with the socialists that they do not rise above the politics of appeasement".