Stung Nitish refused to congratulate Modi on his victory

Hours after Gujarat results started pouring in and it became clear that Narendra Modi had hit a hat-trick, journalists from the electronic media in Patna fell over each other to get a sound-byte of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

But the arch rival of Modi simply refused to comment. The journalists tried their best on Thursday as well as Friday but could not get the byte the nation anticipated from the JD (U) strongman. Vehemently declining to speak on the issue, Nitish merely said, “I will call you separately to talk on this topic.”

It is now learnt that he did not even congratulate Modi for romping home for the third consecutive time. His close aides do not attach much significance to it (formal congratulatory call) as “Modi too had not congratulated Nitish when the latter got a brute 4/5th majority in the 2010 Assembly elections.”

The stoic silence maintained by Nitish is all the more baffling for the BJP leaders, who run the government in Bihar with the support of a bigger ally in the State - the JD(U). “It’s customary to congratulate the person who wins,” said senior BJP leader and Bihar’s Animal Husbandry and Fisheries Minister Giriraj Singh. “Whether one likes it or not, Modiji has proved his mettle,” he added, without taking the name of Nitish, whose antipathy for the Gujarat Chief Minister is well-known.

Bihar BJP president and former Union Health Minister Dr CP Thakur too was taken aback over Nitish’s silence and wondered why the minimum courtesy (to congratulate Modi) was not maintained. But given the strained relationship between the JD(U) and the BJP, Thakur preferred not to stretch the matter too far.

Those who have studied Nitish well argue that the JD(U) strongman neither forgets nor forgives someone so easily. Such is his antipathy for Modi that Nitish persuaded BJP leaders that Bihar should remain out of bounds for the Gujarat CM during the electioneering for 2009 Lok Sabha elections and 2010 Assembly polls. Given the larger-than-life image which Nitish has attained over the years, the saffron party without questioning the Bihar Chief Minister simply toed his line.

Once the Assembly elections were over and Nitish swept Bihar winning 206 seats out of 243 in November 2010, Modi reportedly did not congratulate him. After all, it was barely a few months back when he was humiliated in Bihar when Nitish cancelled a dinner party.
It all began in June 2010 when Nitish’s attention was drawn towards a full-page advertisement in local dailies which sang paeans to Narendra Modi and dwelt at length how the Gujarat CM had extended a helping hand to Bihar during the Kosi flood.

“It’s against our spirit and culture. If somebody helps during a crisis, he need not and should not blow his own trumpet,” a miffed Nitish shot back without naming his Gujarat counterpart.

So angry was Nitish with the advertisement that he immediately convened a meeting of his top officers and returned the Rs 5 crore-relief cheque to the Gujarat government, much to the embarrassment of BJP top guns.

Hand-grab instances

In May 2012, during the Chief Ministers’ meeting convened by the Centre to discuss NCTC threadbare at New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan, Narendra Modi rushed purposefully to shake hands with Nitish. Again the cameramen jostled with each other for a photo-opportunity.
This was the second time in the last three years that Nitish was subjected to a ‘hand-grab’ by Modi.

The first instance was at Ludhiana in 2009 when during a campaign for the Lok Sabha elections, the JD(U) strongman was cajoled into joining the NDA rally, which also had Modi on the dais. As Nitish climbed the staircase of the podium, a smiling Modi marched towards him, and before Nitish could react, he (Modi) clutched Nitish’s hand and raised it aloft, even as a section of electronic mediamen jostled with each other to capture the ‘exclusive shot’ of two rivals.

Next year, the same photograph became a bone of contention between the BJP and the JD(U) when Modi got the photograph published as a full page advertisement in local dailies of Patna, hailing flood relief sent by Gujarat to Bihar.

Earlier this year, Nitish, in an interview to a national daily, refused to endorse Modi’s name for the country’s top post when he said, “The leader of the coalition (NDA) should have secular credentials and a liberal frame of mind. He should be someone who has absolute faith in democratic values in a multi-religious and multi-lingual country like ours.”
Post Gujarat polls, Nitish’s abhorrence for Modi remains undiluted. Amid growing clamour to make Modi NDA’s prime-ministerial candidate in 2014, Nitish has asked his men not to react in public although he is likely to pile up pressure on the BJP to come clean on the leadership question.

Though he is in no hurry to sever ties with the saffron party, but the Congress has made the first move to wean Nitish away from the NDA. Last week, finance minister P Chidambaram said in the Rajya Sabha that “a backward state like Bihar cannot be left to fend for itself… there is a need to change the laid down criterion for according special status, which will be looked into by the government as well as the Planning Commission.”
Now, this was music to the ears of Nitish, who had recently announced that he would back any government at the Centre which would accede to his demand for giving special status to Bihar.

As 2014 approaches, expect new electoral arithmetic and equally new political chemistry.

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