Communists, women’s groups and the Bihar region’s ruling RJP party have launched a concerted attack on the minister.

What’s more, India’s constitution takes a dim view of beliefs in the Occult, with a four-year-old law that bans exorcism and sorcery.

“The Bihar state government should book the minister under the prevention of witchcraft practices act,” Communist Party of India secretary Jalaluddin Ansari told AFP.

“It is unfortunate that a person who takes oath in the name of the Indian constitution is violating it,” he added.

Fire-walking

During a function on Monday in honour of ojhas, gunis, vaidyas, pandas, pirs and bhagats (spirits), Paswan walked barefoot over embers and brandished swords to the delight of sorcerers and faith healers.

"I have not done anything wrong by honouring practioners of traditional skills"

Sanjay Paswan

He also said that his ministry will open two centres in Patna and Darbhanga for research in faith healing skills, after dancing with cobras hanging from his shoulders.

“This is all futuristic science and needs promotion by the State, media and civil society,” Paswan told revellers at Monday’s gathering

The Bihar unit of the International Association of Peoples Lawyers have lodged a complaint against Paswan for violating the law. Womens organisations are also up in arms.

Stoning

Women are often stoned in the State of Bihar after being branded as witches. They feel that such calls from government ministers will only encourage the barbaric practice.

Unfazed by such attacks, Paswan suggested that his political opponents take the help of faith healers to boost their dwindling support base.

“I have not done anything wrong by honouring practioners of traditional skills,” Paswan said this week. “Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowldges faith healing as a potent tool for healing the body and the mind.”

Paswan's erstwhile boss in the ministry, Murli Manohar Joshi,
quit last week after a court charged him with goading Hindu fanatics to demolish an ancient mosque in 1992 in the belief that it was built on the ruins of a Hindu temple.