Shah & smile for Nitish
Patna: BJP president Amit Shah on Thursday sent out the message that all was well between the Bihar allies, a statement that sought to iron out the creases in its ties with the Janata Dal United and also underscored the importance of chief minister Nitish Kumar as a key partner of the NDA.
After losing allies such as the Telugu Desam Party and the Shiv Sena, it seemed from Shah's visit that the BJP has awoken to the importance of keeping its NDA partners in good humour.
"We know how to keep friends and also give them their due," Shah, who met Nitish over breakfast and again at dinner, said.
Nitish also appeared to be in a relaxed frame of mind. The usually reserved chief minister posed smilingly for the cameras as he walked out of the breakfast meeting at the state guest house to affirm the bonhomie among the alliance partners.
The consensus in Patna's power corridors was that the BJP president's one-day visit had underlined Nitish's importance - especially with the threat of a Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party tie-up looming large in Uttar Pradesh.
"Chandrababu (Naidu of the Telugu Desam) left, Nitish Kumar came. In 2014 we (NDA) won 31 of (Bihar's 40 Lok Sabha) seats. This time we will win 40 out of 40 with Nitish Kumar," Shah told BJP workers and leaders.
"The Congress and the RJD are daydreaming about a BJP-JDU break-up," he asserted. BJP cadres virtually captured the heart of Patna and put up a colourful show of strength for Shah, but the focus was Nitish.
There was speculation about the two parties talking about seat sharing for 2019, but a BJP leader said such discussions do not happen during breakfasts and dinners. "They (Shah and Nitish) did not discuss politics during breakfast. Not a word was uttered about seat sharing," said a BJP leader.
The meeting was an "ice-breaking exercise", insisted JDU leaders.
"The talks between Nitishji and Amit Shah are happening in a cordial atmosphere. It is too early to talk about seats, but it is a step towards it," said JDU national spokesperson K.C. Tyagi.
However, BJP sources said that before the dinner Nitish hosted for Shah, senior BJP leaders Sushil Kumar Modi, Nand Kishore Yadav, Mangal Pandey, Nityanand Rai, Bhupendra Yadav, Nagendra and Saudan Singh discussed in a closed-door meeting all the 40 Lok Sabha seats.
Speculation about seats to be given to the JDU varied from seven to 15.
The dinner reminded some of 2010, when Nitish had cancelled a similar do at 1 Aney Marg that then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was expected to attend. "The BJP has not forgotten the humiliation it suffered in the hands of Nitish Kumar. Amit Shah took revenge of sorts by first calling Nitish to his own durbar at the state guesthouse before going to 1 Aney Marg," declared RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari.
However, in 2010, Nitish was a rising star in Indian politics owing to his record in Bihar and his clean image and credibility. Eight years later, Nitish's credibility is being questioned, as is his governance.
"The BJP and the JDU have no other option but to remain with each other," a senior Bihar BJP leader admitted. "The BJP knows that 2019 is not 2014 and there will be no Modi wave. Nitish also knows his options are limited as the RJD's Tejashwi Yadav has hurled insult after insult at Nitish Kumar and the doors to rejoin the Grand Alliance have closed."
At a state government event on Thursday evening to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of former chief minister Satyendra Narayan Sinha, All India Congress Committee general secretary Ashok Gehlot also met Nitish briefly.