The warmth surrounding Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s interaction with BJP patriarch LK Advani at the National Integration Council meeting in New Delhi was a media talking point on Monday.
But former Bihar deputy chief minister and senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi recalls that though Kumar-Advani association went back a long way, it was not always marked by the kind of bonhomie witnessed at the NIC meet.
“If anything, their relationship has been tumultuous. Nitishji was a fan of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He never was at ease with Advaniji,” said Sushil.
Sushil recalled Nitish considered Advani a Hindutva hardliner and the one who had to take his share of the blame for the 1992 Babri demolition.
“When Advaniji’s rathyatra was stopped by the Lalu Prasad regime at Samastipur (north Bihar) in 1991 and he was arrested, the word was the move had backing of Nitishji, who was with Laluji at the time,” he said.
Sushil said when Advani was made the NDA’s prime ministerial nominee for the 2009 Lok Sabha poll, Kumar accepted the decision ‘with a great deal of reluctance’.
“In fact, he attended only Advaniji’s first election campaign meeting in Bihar at Buxar, staying away from his other meetings,” Sushil told HT.
“Their shared reservation about Narendra Modi being declared the BJP’s PM nominee appears to have triggered a fresh bonhomie between them,” he argued.
Sushil’s claims are significant in that he has been very closely associated with both Advani, his political mentor, and Kumar, under whom he served as deputy CM for seven years till the BJP-JD (U) split in June this year.
In the aftermath of the split, triggered by Modi’s elevation in the BJP and Kumar’s serious reservations about the move, Sushil has publicly backed Modi and even advised Advani to wake up to the new reality.
For his part, other BJP leaders recall, Advani has a long history of courting Kumar. His first move towards this end was to invite Kumar to the BJP’s national executive meet in Mumbai in 1995.
KN Govinacharya, a close confidant of Advani at the time but subsequently ousted from the BJP over his alleged description of Vajpayee as a ‘mukhauta’ (mask) of the party, had played the hand in that invitation.
“His Samata party had lost badly to Lalu Prasad’s Janata Dal in the Bihar assembly poll, winning just seven seats out of 315 it contested in the then Bihar house of 324. So, Nitishji accepted the invitation”, said a BJP leader.
That paved the way for a BJP-Samata alliance beginning with the 1996 Lok Sabha poll and Nitish Kumar became a minister in the Vajpayee regime (1998-2004).
“This alliance lasted for 17 years, till JD (U), in which Samata party subsequently merged, walked out of the NDA in June,” recalled another BJP leader.
After the February 2005 Bihar assembly poll failed to throw up a clear winner, it was Advani again who played a hand in getting Kumar declared the NDA’s chief ministerial nominee ahead of the repeat poll in November.
The Kumar-led NDA created history in the November 2005 poll by ending nearly 15 years of Lalu Prasad-led RJD rule in Bihar. The success was repeated in the 2010 assembly poll.
Of late, when the BJP leadership declared Modi BJP’s PM nominee despite Advani’s reservations, Kumar accused it of not showing enough respect for a party elder.
A little while later, he went public with his view that ‘iron man’ Advani had been left to “rust” by the BJP leadership