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Nitish to flag off Advani drive

Sept. 23: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar gave his consent to flag off the rath yatra of L.K. Advani against corruption from Sitab Diara on October 11 after the BJP subtly withdrew his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi from the dais.

The BJP cleared the hurdle in Nitish’s way in inaugurating the yatra by dropping the idea of inviting all the BJP chief ministers to the show at Sitab Diara, the birthplace of late Jaya Prakash Narayan. The move has actually shot down any possibility of Bihar chief minister having to share the stage with Modi.

“There is no plan of calling all the BJP chief ministers to Sitab Diara. After all, Advanji’s rath yatra will cover all the 28 states, including those governed by the BJP,” deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi told The Telegraph, stressing that only the Bihar BJP leaders would be present on the occasion.

Nitish’s reluctance to share the stage with Modi is well known. Peeved over an advertisement displaying the Bihar and Gujarat chief ministers on the same dais (at an NDA rally in Punjab) during the national executive meet of the BJP in Patna last year, Nitish returned Rs 5 crore given by the Gujarat government for Kosi flood relief and cancelled the dinner supposed to be hosted for the BJP leaders at the chief minister’s residence.

The Bihar chief minister did not allow his Gujarat counterpart to campaign in Bihar during the Assembly polls. In fact, Nitish has been consistent on his “no Narendra Modi for poll campaigning in Bihar” stand since the November 2005 Assembly polls.

Despite Nitish’s cold shoulder to its star campaigner, the BJP cannot afford to ignore him in Bihar. More so, when it is keen to push the UPA out of power.

Taking this into count, the BJP national president, Nitin Gadkari, had requested Nitish to flag off Advani’s rath yatra.

The national spokesperson of the BJP, Ravi Shankar Prasad, told The Telegraph today: “The Bihar chief minister has agreed to inaugurate Advaniji’s yatra. The complete itinerary of his rath yatra is being worked out.”

The BJP national leadership has also sent a formal request to the national president of the JD(U), Sharad Yadav, to be present on the occasion. Yadav has already expressed his willingness to participate in the event if he is invited.

A BJP source said the purpose of asking Nitish to do the honours was two: it was Advani’s rebuff to Narendra Modi who reportedly rejected the veteran’s original idea of starting his road show from Gujarat’s Karamsad. The source said Modi argued that he was not consulted on the venue’s choice and that it would “hamper” the working “harmony mission” he was carrying to every district of the state because the BJP cadre attention would be divided.

Second, after the questions Modi’s mission raised over the durability of the BJP-Dal (United) alliance, Advani felt it was important to restore relations.

The Opposition in Bihar is trying to project Advani’s rath yatra as similar to his Ram Mandir Yatra in the early 1990s. But the JD(U) leaders dismissed the comparison.

“Advaniji’s yatra this time is against corruption. The JD(U) and the BJP alliance has been ruling Bihar for the past six years. Nitish Kumar and Advaniji have shared the stage in Bihar a dozen times,” said JD(U) MP Shivanand Tiwari.

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