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Friday, Aug 23, 2019

Nitish-Modi reunion not a hurried affair, took 7 months to seal deal

Nitish Kumar will seek a trust vote on Friday after re-forging a partnership with the BJP, four years after he walked out of the NDA.

india Updated: Jul 28, 2017 07:39 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times
Chief minister Nitish Kumar with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a function at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna to commemorate the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a function at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna to commemorate the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh.(HT File Photo)

The reunion of Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar appeared hurried on Wednesday, but it was in the works for nearly seven months.

Warmth returned to the chilly relationship between the Prime Minister and Bihar chief minister as early as this January.

The two astute politicians met after a long gap at a function in Patna to commemorate the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh. It was January 5 and TV screens flashed images of the two politicians sitting together, smiling at each other and even holding hands at different moments. The bitterness of parting ways and poll campaign was over.

“The unease in the relationship between the two leaders was over,” a BJP leader said. “Over the next months, they remained in touch, directly and through emissaries.”

The onstage bonhomie between the two was quite palpable.

Modi praised Nitish for arrangements he made for prakash utsav and going ahead with prohibition despite opposition. Kumar reciprocated by praising Modi for successfully implementing a liquor ban in Gujarat as its chief minister.

The event at the historic Gandhi Maidan in Patna happened within months of Kumar supporting Modi’s decision to recall high-value banknotes. He also supported Modi on the military “surgical strikes” against terrorist hideouts in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Less than a week after this bonhomie blossomed, Kumar had an ice-breaking meeting with a top BJP leader in Patna. They met again in Delhi in February to explore if a reunion can happen and on what terms.

The subsequent months saw Kumar talking of a grand alliance against the BJP, and simultaneously sharing with the BJP leadership his unease about the functioning of RJD chief Lalu Prasad, his alliance partner.

He was jittery over Prasad calling the shots in departments headed by his son, deputy chief minister Tejashwi. This was not acceptable to a leader conscious of his image. A senior Union minister remained in constant touch with Kumar and every move was communicated to Prime Minister Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah.

A dispute between Tejashwi and another minister close to Kumar over a government project in Raxaul was another flashpoint. He was upset over friction between allies on sharing boards and corporation and the Congress’s dilly-dally on strategic matters.

Difference over selection of the opposition’s candidate for the President’s post was perhaps the last nail in the grand alliance that he had stitched in Bihar and wanted to replicate nationally.

“Congress could not leave its interests behind in a losing battle,” a source close to Kumar said. “How could he expect the Congress to sacrifice its interests for a far more important battle in 2019?”

As Kumar was getting desperate, the BJP swiftly moved in.

State BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi unleashed a campaign against Prasad and his family, accusing them of accumulating wealth disproportionate to their known source of income. Most of it had been in public domain, but it was laced with a few fresh charges. Central agencies raided properties of Prasad’s relatives and their close aides. This offered Nitish a way out of the grand alliance. Sources said the reunion was planned for a suitable time after Parliament’s monsoon session, but the two parties rushed into it after realising that Prasad was trying to poach JD(U) legislators.

First Published: Jul 28, 2017 07:30 IST

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