Citing his failure to check the post-Godhra riots, National Democratic Alliance constituent Janata Dal-United has made clear its opposition to Narendra Modi's projection as prime ministerial candidate but ruled out the possibility of aligning with "enemy" Congress at the cost of "friend" BJP.
Taking stock of the political scenario in the country against the growing clamour in the BJP for pitting Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate, the JD-U executive, which met in New Delhi, criticised the Gujarat chief minister saying that he "failed in discharging his duties as the head of the state to check communal riots in 2002".
While JD-U leaders have made public statements expressing their antipathy to Modi, this is the first time the party has made its position formally clear through a conclave -- the National Executive meeting.
Amid speculation over Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar also being in the Prime Ministerial race, party spokesperson K C Tyagi said emphatically said thrice "Nitish Kumar is not a PM candidate."
While making it clear that it was opposed to Modi's projection as the Prime Ministerial candidate, JD-U, however, said it will not set any deadline for the BJP to decide on who would be its Prime Ministerial face.
Responding to a volley of questions on whether JD-U will oppose Modi's projection in the BJP for the top job, Tyagi, "as long as the Parliamentary Board of the BJP does not categorically say who is its Prime Ministerial candidate, why should we talk about it."
But in an apparent scaling down of its rhetoric, the party dismissed contentions of fixing any timeline for BJP to declare its Prime Ministerial candidate before next Lok Sabha elections but felt "it will be good" if the major ally in the NDA chose to do it as "they had done it earlier also".
To a question whether any leader said in the meeting that JD-U should snap ties with the BJP if Modi is projected, Tyagi said, "No, nobody said any such thing."
At the same time, he said there was no dilution of its views on the issue and the party maintains the same stand.
He also gave enough indications that JD-U does not have reservations against any other BJP leader including L K Advani. "We have earlier also fought elections under the leadership of L K Advani. So how can we say now that it was wrong," was his refrain.
On the possibility of any tie-up with the Congress in future, Tyagi said, "Congress is an enemy party. There is no such possibility (of joining hands with Congress). Neither did this possibility exist earlier nor does it now, not even remotely."
Responding to questions about JD-U either joining hands with Congress before Lok Sabha election or forming a government with its support, Tyagi said, "Our experience of forming government with the help of Congress has been bad. God save us from them".
Alluding to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots after assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Tyagi said that the Congress has no right to raise the issue of 'Rajdharma' of Modi vis a vis Gujarat riots because "the same mass killings happened in Delhi at that time."
"Why will we ally with Congress? Ours is an alliance with the BJP for a long time. Congress is not a friendly party to us," he said.
Tyagi also had a dig at Congress' "dynastic" politics saying "it is a decided fact in Congress for last 50 years that only a member of the (Gandhi) family will become the Prime Minister".
Congress was apparently hopeful of JD-U switching sides after the recent overtures of Nitish Kumar praising the central government's steps to facilitate special status to Bihar. Tyagi, however, made it clear that this was the "right" of the state.
Affirming JD(U)'s "commitment to secularism" at the same time, he reminded that it was a government of erstwhile Janta Dal in Bihar, which had arrested L K Advani, when the latter had carried out a Rath Yatra and as a result lost the government headed by V P Singh at the Centre in 1990.
He also dismissed reports that JD-U has given a timeline of six months to the BJP to make up its mind on its Prime Ministerial candidate, asking "Have you you ever given such a six-month deadline to your friend, which you want us to do our friend".
Proclaiming "love" for "friend" BJP, Tyagi recalled the old association between the two parties saying when the first NDA government was formed in 1998, signatories to its Common Minimum Programme included Atal Behari Vajpayee, Sharad Yadav, George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar.
Fernandes and Kumar were then in the Samta Party.
The government had been formed then only when BJP decided to drop its three contentious issues of RamTemple, abrogation of Article 370 and its demand for Uniform Civil Code, Tyagi said, stressing that "JD(U) is a secular party. It will not do any such work, which affects its secular image."
He also rejected suggestions that JD-U has forgotten its earlier anti-Modi stance, saying "the agenda of the meeting today is not Modi."
Tyagi also downplayed BJP's remarks holding Modi as "secular" and said, "He (Modi) is their party's chief minister. They should be saying it."
He, however, significantly added, "being popular is a different thing and becoming Prime Minister is another," when pointed out that the BJP chief Rajnath Singh's remarks that Modi is the most of popular leader in the party.
Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav will be speaking on Sunday in the open session of the party, Tyagi said adding that the issue of Prime Ministership of the NDA will be discussed in tomorrow's meeting.
"Why are you asking all this today? Your doubts will be set at rest on Sunday," he said. The political resolution of the party will also be out on Sunday.
Tyagi, however, said that a number of JD-U state chiefs have grievances against the BJP for "not following the coalition dharma" in the respective states.
A leader from Gujarat complained that JD-U leaders were harassed by Modi government and false cases lodged against them.
Gujarat PCC chief Chhotubhai Vasaba, who did not attend the meeting, told PTI, "We have been raising this issue with the party high command for a long time. The present government in Gujarat has been doing this to intimidate us."
Tyagi rued that the number of seats the JD-U used to fight in alliance with the BJP has come down in few states, whereas in some others, the major NDA party declined to have any truck with it.
During the interactions, the Karnataka JD-U chief said that the BJP was not following the coalition dharma properly.
He also said that the party will contest on 15 to 20 seats in the state in this assembly election.
Tyagi said that similar complaints were received from UP, Rajasthan and Kerala. He also claimed that no such problem is reported from Punjab, Maharashtra and Bihar, where other NDA allies like SAD, Shiv Sena and JD-U are the major partners in the alliance.
Alleging that in some of the states like Rajasthan the BJP propped up rebels in the seats given to the JD-U, he said "in the other three states, no party puts up a rebel."
"All allies in states should follow the coalition dharma and their national leadership should ensure this," Tyagi said.
Maintaining that there are "difference of views" between the BJP and the JD(U) over the issue of Kashmir, he said that his party will bring a special resolution on the issue tomorrow besides one on the special status for Bihar.
After the interactions, the JDU also passed a resolution on the issue of quota in promotion for the SCs/STs asking the Centre to "bring to an end its policy of evading" the matter and "ensure the passage of amendment proposal in Parliament so that the staffs of SCs/STs can get justice."
The resolution said that an attempt was made to end quota in promotion by wrongly interpreting the decision of the Supreme Court on this issue.
Tyagi also said that the country's image has suffered and India is not given the importance it used to get once in the international fora.