With several BJP-ruled states announcing plans to introduce laws against what they call "love jihad", Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Friday said it was a term "manufactured" by the saffron party to divide the country and disrupt communal harmony.
Gehlot got support from T S Singh Deo, his party colleague and Chhattisgarh Health Minister, who said hatred and intolerance has "crept so deeply" that the BJP is now "brazenly planning" laws against consensual interfaith marriages.
His comments came as ministers in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana announced that they would enact laws to curb 'love jihad' marriages. Some Karnataka BJP leaders and ministers also have mooted the idea, saying it would curb such practices.
The Hindutva groups allege that Muslim youth are actively wooing Hindu girls into marriage for converting them into Islam, a claim which has not found any evidence so far.
Becoming the first Congress Chief Minister to unequivocally oppose the BJP move, Gehlot said bringing law to regulate marriage in this way was completely unconstitutional.
"Love Jihad is a word manufactured by BJP to divide the nation and disturb communal harmony. Marriage is a matter of personal liberty, bringing a law to curb it is completely unconstitutional and it will not stand in any court of law. Jihad has no place in love," he said in a series of tweets.
The senior Congress leader said the BJP was creating an environment in the nation where consenting adults would be "at the mercy" of state power.
"Marriage is a personal decision and they are putting curbs on it, which is like snatching away personal liberty...It seems a ploy to disrupt communal harmony, fuel social conflict and disregard constitutional provisions like the state not discriminating against citizens on any ground," Gehlot said.
Deo said love jihad was an "exhaustingly bigoted term" coined by BJP carried forward through the media propagandists has now reached levels of severity.
He said marriage is a personal and domestic matter, affecting chiefly the two parties concerned and partly their families and that Jawaharlal Nehru had the most practical analysis for the sacred institution, which is now being compartmentalised with bigotry and hatred towards a certain sect.
"Marriage is and has always been a personal choice for consenting adults - socially and constitutionally. Try all they can to attack the sovereignty of India, we shall stand strong to uphold the integrity of our constitution and this great nation," Deo said.
The recent push by the BJP for a law came after Allahabad High Court observed that conversion just for the sake of marriage could not be encouraged.
Rajasthan BJP president Satish Poonia criticised Gehlot, claiming that his statement reflected “petty vote bank politics”.
"It is hard to believe that the chief minister will get so rattled by the plight of the Congress nationwide. We all know that marriage in the tradition of India is a religious and socially recognised rite, and is not limited only to freedom of the individual. I think the way they have accused the BJP is baseless,” he was quoted by PTI as saying.