New Delhi, Sept. 23: So what their parties have divorced.
L.K. Advani today walked up to Nitish Kumar, arms outstretched, and patted the Bihar chief minister in their first public display of bonhomie since the BJP and the Janata Dal (United) parted ways earlier this year.
The moment of togetherness came on the sidelines of a meeting that Narendra Modi — the man who has succeeded in upsetting both Advani and Nitish — stayed away from.
The BJP shrugged off the show of affection as “political courtesy” but the undertones were difficult to overlook given Advani’s known opposition to Modi’s elevation as the party’s 2014 mascot and Nitish’s decision to end the Dal (U)’s relationship with its ally of 17 years for the same reason.
The political symbolism stretched even further: Shivraj Singh Chouhan was the only chief minister from a BJP-ruled state who turned up for the National Integration Council meeting the Centre had called in the backdrop of the recent violence in Muzaffarnagar.
The leader from Madhya Pradesh, known to be a member of the Advani school of thought, has grudgingly accepted his Gujarat counterpart’s anointment.
When Advani stepped inside the sprawling Vigyan Bhavan auditorium this morning, Nitish was already in his seat. Advani walked up to him, shook hands with the Bihar chief minister and stretched his arms, just short of a hug, to pat the younger leader.
Nitish responded with equal warmth.
“The BJP shows courtesy even towards it political opponents,” senior leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said, refusing to read any political meaning in Advani’s gesture.
Chouhan, too, described it as “normal courtesy” but then preferred to smile his way through a volley of questions.
It was no ordinary gesture from Advani, who virtually reached out to Nitish, that too after the Bihar leader had said the “iron man had been left to rust” when the BJP decided to anoint Modi, brushing aside the patriarch’s opposition.
Advani had refused to be party to the BJP parliamentary board meeting that endorsed the Gujarat chief minister’s name but has since refrained from publicly criticising Modi and has even praised his achievements in Gujarat.
Sources close to the patriarch, however, said the 85-year-old had not raised his hands yet and could throw his hat into the ring if the BJP fails to get the numbers in 2014, prompting it to turn to Advani to look for allies.
Today’s reach-out to Nitish, the sources said, was a post-election investment. Chouhan is believed to be Advani’s partner in this strategy.
Nitish — many believe Advani was the driving force behind the Bihar chief minister’s rebellion against Modi — hit out at his Gujarat counterpart’s alleged divisive agenda, though he did not mention Modi’s name.
“A multi-party democracy invariably leads to competitive politics aimed at cornering a larger share of votes. But we must ask whether it should necessarily lead to passionate persuasion of a divisive agenda?” Nitish said in his speech.
He emphasised the need for “communal amity” and “social harmony”, saying they were key to “enduring” economic development.