A key BJP ally in Bihar has stunned many in the ruling alliance with his comments on Lord Ram. “I don’t believe in Ram. Ram was not God. Ram was a character created by Tulsidas and Valmiki to spread their message,” former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi has said.
“They wrote the Ramayan and there are many good lessons in their writings. We believe that. We believe in Tulsidas and Valmiki, not Ram,” said Mr Manjhi, whose son Santosh Manjhi is in the Nitish Kumar-BJP cabinet in Bihar.
Mr Manjhi, the chief of the Hindustan Awam Morcha (HAM) that is a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, was speaking on Thursday at an event to mark the birth anniversary of BR Ambedkar, who framed India’s constitution.
“If you believe in Ram, then the story we always heard is that Ram ate fruit tasted by Shabari. You will not eat the fruit we bite into but at least eat what we touch,” Mr Manjhi said, apparently referring to the caste divide in the country.
There are only two castes in this world, he said – rich and poor. He also hit out at Brahmins, accusing them of discriminating against Dalits.
Mr Manjhi’s comments come at a time some states are tackling the aftermath of clashes during processions taken out for Ram Navami, which celebrates the birth of Lord Ram.
Clashes broke out during Ram Navami celebrations on Sunday in states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Two were killed and many injured.
In Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone, there was arson and violence after stones were thrown at a Ram Navami procession passing through a Muslim-dominated part of the town. The state’s BJP government has since arrested 94 people and launched a demolition drive targeting those who allegedly threw stones at the procession.
Mr Manjhi’s words may not sit well with ally BJP, which has always held Lord Ram to be at the heart of its ideology.