The hype over the JD(U) national council’s move to ‘review’ ties with the BJP is only the latest in a tumultuous relation that began in the run up to the 1996 Lok Sabha polls.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar at the meeting of chief ministers on National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) in New Delhi. (PTI Photo by Manvender Vashist)
But the JD(U)’s latest ‘unease’ with the rise of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is, by no means, the most serious threat to the partnership.
The NDA allies came closest to a bitter parting of ways on June 12, 2010 — the opening day of the two-day BJP’s national executive committee meeting in Patna, after newspapers carried a full-page advertisement featuring the Bihar and Gujarat chief ministers holding aloft their hands.
The hand-in-hand photo, drawn from a May 2009 NDA rally in Ludhiana, upset Kumar so much that he cancelled a dinner he had planned for the visiting BJP delegation that included NDA chairperson LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, and six BJP chief ministers.
“It was sheer humiliation for BJP and went against the grain of Bihari culture that calls for treating guests like gods. But our leadership acted with restraint”, recalls the then Bihar BJP chief, CP Thakur.
At the root of the Bihar CM’s anger was the photograph’s potential to damage his image as a ‘secular’ leader, especially among the Muslims in Bihar who he has been wooing assiduously.
The Bihar chief minister had also reacted strongly to another set of advertisements praising Modi for his relief effort during the 2008 Kosi floods and projecting him as a messiah of Muslims in Gujarat.
“I am ascertaining the value of the Gujarat government’s flood relief to Bihar and would not hesitate to refund the amount,” Kumar had said.
The day after the snub, the BJP gave Modi the pride of place at its ‘swabhiman rally’ in Patna on June 13. While most party leaders avoided any reference to Kumar, Advani said he would have been happier had Kumar attended the rally.