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Bihar: More Fissures in Ruling NDA as JD-U and BJP Spar Over ‘Ashoka the Great’

After BJP’s cultural cell convenor Daya Prakash Sinha likened Emperor Ashoka to Mughal ruler Aurangzeb, there has been demand to take back his Padma Shree and Sahitya Akademi awards.

Patna: A war of words has broken out in Bihar within the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners, JD(U) and BJP over ‘Ashoka the Great’, with the former accusing a leader of the saffron party for showing the Emperor of the Maurya dynasty on “poor light” and demanding action against him.

The row gathered steam after Padma Shree awardee and Sahitya Akademi award winning writer Daya Prakash Sinha, who is also convenor of the cultural cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in an interview, compared Ashoka with Aurangzeb, suggesting that both were “cruel” as rulers and had committed 'sins'.

Not just the Janata Dal (United), but also its ally, former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi  of the Hindustani Awam Morcha, and the Opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) have condemned the BJP leader.

A chorus has been growing for action against Sinha, demanding that his Padma Shree other awards be taken back.

In fact, on Thursday, Manjhi, a dalit leader, also added a caste angle to the entire controversy. Without naming BJP, he said some people were insulting Emperor Ashok as he belonged to a backward caste.

”Such feudal people do not want that a child of dalit, adivasi or backward caste should reached the top. I have requested the President of India to take back the Padma Shree from Sinha for insulting Emperor Ashoka”, said Manjhi in a tweet.

This is not the first time that a politician has claimed that Emperor Ashoka was from a backward caste. A few years ago, some OBC (Other Backward Classes) leaders in the state had repeatedly claimed that Ashoka belonged to Kushwaha or Koeri, powerful caste.

Incidentally, eminent historians, including Romila Thapar, have time and again clarified that there was no reference to Ashoka’s caste in any ancient Indian text and that it was wrong to imagine his caste.

Meanwhile, taking serious objection to Sinha’s comment that Ashoka was similar to Aurangzeb and both had committed “many sins”, JD-U national president Lalan Singh demanded that the Padma Shree be taken back from Sinha.

On Wednesday, Singh said in his tweet: “Criticism of one of the greatest kings in ancient India cannot be accepted. A person who used offensive words against the celebrated king does not deserve accolades. I request the President of India to take back Padma Shree from Sinha and also request the authority concerned to take back his other awards.”

Another senior JD-U leader Neeraj Kumar on Thursday dared BJP to support the demand to withdraw Sahitya Akademi Award to Sinha.

Former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha, who is chairman of the JD(U)'s parliamentary board, has also demanded withdrawal of awards to Sinha for creating a bad image of ‘Ashoka the Great.’

Kushwaha warned of protests and backlash if action was not taken against Sinha.

RJD leader Ezaj Ahmad also threatened to launch a protest against Sinha for portraying likening Ashoka to Aurangzeb.” We will lodge an FIR against Sinha for insulting emperor Ashoka and hurting thousands”.

Interestingly a few years ago, none other than senior BJP leaders had tried their best to use the name of Emperor Ashoka to woo voters belonging to OBC Kushwaha community. The party had also celebrated the birth anniversary of Ashoks despite the fact that historians have no record of his date of birth, like his caste.

Now, BJP is in a fix on how to deal with Sinha’s projection of Ashoka in "poor light", as it had itself projected the Emperor as an OBC a few years ago.

After differences on the demand for a caste census and special category status to Bihar, more fissures have surfaced in the ruling NDA -- this time on Emperor Ashok.

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