Luncheons and dinner need to get special mention in defining the undulating relationship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar over the years.
Narendra Modi played a host to Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth over lunch and invited Nitish Kumar, who skipped a lunch hosted by Congress president Sonia Gandhi yesterday.
Entire Opposition was fuming, albeit not openly, over Nitish Kumar’s decision to skip the lunch where all the invited party chiefs were present to discuss their strategy for the presidential election.
THE DINNER THAT NEVER HAPPENED
It was a dinner invitation in 2010 that threw the relationship between Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi into rough weather. Narendra Modi, then as the Gujarat Chief Minister, was in Patna to attend the BJP national executive meet.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar – then in alliance with the BJP – had extended lunch invitation to the top brass of the BJP leadership. But then something happened.
It was the month of June and an advertisement put by the then Gujarat Chief Minister bragging about his state’s flood relief aid to Bihar – where rivers were in a spate in 2010. Narendra Modi had sent a cheque of Rs 5 crore on behalf of Gujarat to Bihar Chief Minister for flood relief.
Nitish Kumar took the advertisement as an insult to ‘people of Bihar’. He was so furious with the development that he withdrew his invitation to the BJP leadership as it was not possible to convince the top brass of the alliance partner to leave out Narendra Modi from the dinner.
Nitish Kumar went to return the cheque of Rs 5 crore to Gujarat Chief Minister.
Narendra Modi, as BJP’s presidential candidate, had slammed Nitish Kumar for ‘treating him like an untouchable’ and withdrawing the invitation for dinner.
But, times have changed. Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar now share more cordial relation.
‘MEETING IN SAFFRON TURBANS’
Nearly two years after Narendra Modi took oath as the Prime Minister, things ice started to melt between him and Nitish Kumar, who met the former in New Delhi last year and sought special relief package for Bihar.
Nitish Kumar is likely to present his list of demands and remind Narendra Modi of the unfulfilled promises made during that meeting in August, 2016. Nitish Kumar praised and endorsed Narendra Modi’s ambitious Namami Gange programme.
Next month end when Indian forces carried out surgical strike in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, while Aam Aadmi Party and Congress demanded proof and were skeptical of Narendra Modi government’s claim, Nitish Kumar lauded the military operation targeting terror launching pads.
Three months later, Narendra Modi announced demonetisation in a bold yet surprising decision on November 8. The entire Opposition was virtually up in arms. But, Nitish Kumar backed the move calling it well directed one. He criticised the Centre a few weeks later but over implementation woes and problems faced by people.
Then came a meeting in January this year in Patna, where 350th Prakash Parv was celebrated at the Patna Sahib gurudwara. Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi were seen together, walking, sitting and sharing lighter moments with big laughter. There was no sign of any past bitterness between Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar.
Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar, both, were wearing saffron turbans. Another person, who wore a saffron turban was Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, who incidentally had quit as a minister and walked away of the NDA over 2002 Gujarat riots.
LUNCH INVITATION BY SONIA GANDHI
The Opposition parties have been doing every bit to get their acts together for the presidential election. The ruling NDA is little short of 50 per cent of the vote pile for the presidential election. The Opposition sees it as an opportunity to embarrass Narendra Modi government if they succeed in putting up a common candidate, capable of trouncing the ruling coalition’s nominee.
Nitish Kumar is key to a united Opposition. Yesterday’s meeting in the Parliament Library House over lunch hosted by Sonia Gandhi was being considered as a crucial step in that direction. While all the main Opposition leaders huddled together, Nitish Kumar sent Sharad Yadav as JD-U representative.
This led to RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Yadav quip: Nitish Kumar possibly finds the Prime Minister’s lunches more delicious and appetising.
However, Lalu Prasad Yadav, who attended the lunch, said that Nitish Kumar had “a lot of official work” to do. However, for record, Nitish Kumar had just one meeting scheduled for the day and that was the cabinet meeting slated for 5 pm.
About skipping the lunch, Nitish Kumar said that he had already conveyed his party view on the presidential election issue to Sonia Gandhi in April. Nitish Kumar had favoured incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee, who incidentally said that he would not contest if there was no consensus on his name.
This leaves Nitish Kumar open to take call on the question of supporting another candidate, who could even be an NDA nominee.
Many observers feel that Nitish Kumar, in reality, wanted to avoid Lalu Prasad Yadav and not Sonia Gandhi.
Nitish Kumar is said to be upset with the political posturing of Lalu Prasad Yadav, who declared himself as the leader of the mahagathbandhan in Bihar.
The charges of financial irregularities against the family members of Lalu Prasad Yadav and RJD chief’s now exposed equation with jailed don-turned-politician Mohammed Shahabuddin have further complicated the relation between the two leaders. Nitish has maintained a safe distance from the Income Tax raids on the properties of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family members.
LUNCH INVITATION FROM NARENDRA MODI
Nitish Kumar’s lunch with Narendra Modi was timed to irk those trying to stitch a united front in the Opposition rank.
tish Kumar has his own explanation for attending the luncheon. He said, “I was invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the lunch in the honour of Mauritius Prime Minister (Pravind Jugnauth).”
“You know we have deep emotional bonds with people there. 52 per cent of population there has origins in Bihar,” Nitish Kumar said.
But, Nitish Kumar further added that he had sought a separate appointment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss de-siltation of the Ganga river and some other issues.
So, finally after seven years, Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar had their meal together though they were playing the reversed roles. Narendra Modi was the gracious host this time.