Leaving behind the unsavoury turn of events of June 2010, BJP leaders, barring leader of the opposition in the assembly Prem Kumar and a few others, attended a lavish dinner hosted by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar at his residence on Monday.
Kumar, in 2010, as part of the NDA, had cancelled a dinner for the BJP national leadership at the eleventh hour, apparently after photographs showing him holding hands with the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi appeared in newspaper advertisements.
But all that was buried on Monday. The menu was lavish and so was the warmth on the occasion. While JD(U) termed it a ‘customary’ dinner, four days before the closure of the monthlong Bihar legislature’s budget session, it was enough to add grist to the rumour mill that the two former allies were again cosying up.
The ‘dinner diplomacy’ has set tongues wagging. Even as senior BJP leader Nand Kishore and Nitin Navin also opted out, the BJP, on its part, gave wings to the speculation of the two former allies coming together.
“Nitish Kumar wants to come close to BJP through dinner. After all, he has been part of the NDA for 17 years,” said BJP MP Janardan Singh Sigriwal.
The BJP has 53 members in the 243-member Bihar assembly and 23 legislators in the 75-member legislative council.
BJP leader Prem Kumar, who on Monday morning said he would attend the banquet, backed out by evening. “How can we forget that incident? But we have decided not to play a spoilsport,” said leader of the opposition earlier in the day. But as the day unfolded, with lathicharge on teachers, demonstration by anganwadi sevikas and protest against steep rise in power tariff, he changed his decision.
“This is not a party dinner but one given by chief minister of a state. In a democratic setup, posts of PM and CM are above politics,” said BJP spokesperson Binod Narayan Jha explaining the participation.
A party legislator said the decision to attend the dinner was taken at a party meeting, which was attended by several top leaders, including Sushil Kumar Modi, Nand Kishore Yadav and others.
The practice of holding such dinners had stopped after Jitan Ram Manjhi became the CM in May 2014. After the formation of the JD(U)-BJP government in the state in November 2005, chief minister Kumar used to organise a feast after the end of the budget session. Similarly, the speaker of the state assembly also organised feasts for lawmakers after the budget session.
The ruling JD(U) in the state had invited opposition BJP leaders on the occasion of Makar Sankranti on January 14, which was ultimately cancelled due to a boat mishap near Patna. The present invite was the first since the two parties ended their alliance in June 2013. The invitation extended to BJP and the mutual appreciation of works of two former allies did not go well with other Grand Alliance partners - the Congress and the RJD.
Political pundits see Kumar’s support to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation move and the PM praising the liquor ban in Bihar as a thaw in the estranged relationship between the two political parties. During his last visit to the BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh, Kumar had praised the public distribution system there.