There seems to be no sign of an early end to the BJP-JD(U) crisis in Bihar. After much internal discussion, the BJP has made clear to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar that there can be no pre-conditions like keeping Narendra Modi out of Bihar, in their alliance.
The party is reported to have made a formal communication to the JD-U on Wednesday that it will not accept conditions like the Gujarat Chief Minister and party General Secretary Varun Gandhi not campaigning in Bihar during the elections later this year.
In making things clear, the BJP also took the high moral ground with an eye on the polls. Senior party leader M Venkaiah Naidu said in Delhi, "There is no question of accepting any conditions from anyone. We are deeply hurt, but for the people of Bihar, we cannot stop the development. Our decision will be for people of Bihar."
The "hurt" stems from Nitish Kumar's overt disapproval of Narendra Modi's presence in Bihar for a BJP party meet. Nitish, though a BJP partner for long, has been cultivating an independently secular image and has made inroads into the Muslim vote. He has thus repeatedly shied away from any association with Modi.
This time Nitish pushed ties with the BJP to the brink by giving vent to his anger over an advertisement showing him holding hands with his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi.
The BJP, caught between a rock and a hard place, has been unable to make up its mind on going ahead with a recalcitrant partner. After failing to resolve the deadlock within the party at a meeting late last night, party leaders asked chief Nitin Gadkari to take a final call.
After the meeting, party spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said, "Nitin Gadkari will be in Nagpur on Wednesday and only after he comes back, the opinion of the state BJP will be put forward. Only after that there will be a decision on Bihar's JD(U)-BJP coalition. For now there is no decision on the coalition," he said.
Shahnawaz also dismissed as "mere speculation" reports in the media that relations between the two NDA partners had broken down. He said the BJP favoured continuance of the alliance with the JD(U) for the development of Bihar, but would not compromise on self respect.
The Bihar BJP unit has reportedly voiced its resentment against Nitish Kumar and his "autocratic ways", insisting that the party must not compromise. But senior members of the BJP want a truce. After all, the partnership with Nitish's JD(U) has brought them to power in Bihar, and allowed them to share credit with Nitish for making a marked difference in a state often referred to as India's heart of darkness.
In all of this, Narendra Modi has been the crucial point of the conflict. And he has wanted his party to send Nitish a strong message, preferably one that includes some sort of defence for him, as Nitish rails home the point that Modi cannot campaign in Bihar because his non-secular image will alienate Muslim voters.
The JD(U) seems more than willing to meet to meet the BJP half-way. On Tuesday, Nitish recalled a police team deputed to Surat in Gujarat to investigate the series of ads that had irked him by highlighting Modi on his home turf - where his carefully-guarded secular image is making inroads into the Muslim vote.
The ads were part of an ill-devised marketing campaign launched by the BJP in Bihar last week to commemorate its National Executive meeting. One ad showed Kumar at a rally with Modi. Another highlighted the money donated by Gujarat to Bihar for relief and rehabilitation programs linked to floods in the Kosi region two years ago.
A furious Nitish declared his permission had not been sought for the ads. On Monday, he followed through on a threat to return Rs 5 crore donated by the Gujarat government for flood relief work. It was in poor taste, he said, to use a calamity to highlight Gujarat's generosity.
As the spat became public and louder, it created a vertiginous shift in the understanding between Nitish and his Deputy Chief Minister, Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP. At an official function on Monday, the two ignored each other. But by Tuesday evening, sources said Modi had agreed to join Nitish on a public tour whose billing as a Vishwas Yatra (trust tour) now carries new significance.
So will the marriage be saved? JD(U) President Sharad Yadav said, "An individual does not decide, a party decides. The party has decided that they want to stay with the coalition. Something happened on 12th June that created a rift, and both parties are making efforts to make amends." PTI