New Delhi: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has made it clear to the BJP leadership that the partnership in Bihar can continue only if the BJP agrees not to send Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and hardliner Varun Gandhi to the state to campaign for the coming assembly polls, reports Times of India.
Sources said that the chief minister has communicated to the BJP leadership in stark terms that the condition to declare Bihar off-limits for Modi and Varun Gandhi was non-negotiable, stressing that he would not flinch from going his separate way, and was ready to face the consequences.
"Irrespective of whether he continues in 1, Madhav Anne Marg (official residence of Bihar chief minister) or not, Nitish Kumar is not going to compromise on this," JD(U) sources close to the chief minister said.
The demand presents the BJP leadership with a tough choice. It can choose to preserve the alliance but will have to pay a huge cost in terms of loss of face, reinforced perception of subservience to the partner, anger of an already annoyed Narendra Modi and resentment of the Hindutva hawks within ranks.
Party leaders held talks through the day, but without getting wiser about how to resolve the conflict between protecting an alliance which is seen by many as retaining power, and without which NDA will be hollowed of its claim to be the alternative to Congress-led UPA. All members of the core group of Bihar BJP have been summoned here on Tuesday for talks on the crisis.
The chief minister is also insisting on an early formal commitment from the BJP with regard to his "non-negotiable" demand to avoid a bitter divorce.
BJP, which was already smarting from the embarrassment Kumar caused when he returned to the Gujarat government Rs 5 crore of its contribution for flood relief, was livid with the ultimatum served by the embittered Bihar partner.
Party chief Nitin Gadkari along with senior party leader M Venkaiah Naidu discussed the issue with L K Advani who was briefed of the situation also by Bihar BJP chief C P Thakur.
Gadkari had a separate round of discussion with Thakur and Shahnawaz Hussain, but none seemed to have an idea about how to reconcile the competing objectives. Interestingly, many in Bihar BJP seemed to be in agreement with Nitish Kumar that involvement of Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi in the Bihar campaign would undermine Nitish Kumar's painstaking effort to woo Muslims through his chief ministerial tenure, and drive them back into the embrace of RJD strongman Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan.
What is also acknowledged is that Modi's absence - part of an unwritten understanding between the two parties - from the Bihar campaign for the two rounds of assembly polls as well as last year's Lok Sabha polls helped the alliance get the better of Lalu Prasad.
But all those who wish that the alliance survives know that Modi cannot be asked to stay out of Bihar, especially after Nitish Kumar has made an issue of it. The Gujarat chief minister, who has got powerful backers including Advani in the party, is said to be livid with Nitish Kumar for returning the cheque. Unhappy that he has not been able to expand beyond Gujarat, he would not countenance any arrangement that keeps him shackled precisely because of what he considers to be his asset - his image as a Hindutva hardliner. In fact, the propaganda overkill that his followers resorted to in Bihar which provoked Nitish Kumar, itself reflected his ambition to move out of Gujarat.