The BJP-JD(U) ties were under strain on Sunday despite the two sides trying to soft-pedal the controversy over the Nitish-Modi advertisement projecting the Gujarat Chief Minister.
At the end of the BJP national executive meeting here, nothing appeared to have gone well for the alliance with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar cut up over him being clubbed with Modi in full-page advertisements in local dailies.
BJP went into a damage control mode with senior leader L K Advani saying he would have been happy had Kumar been present at the party's Swabhiman rally marking the launch of the campaign for the Assembly polls in the state.
"There can be differences in an alliance. I read in the newspapers that due to an advertisement, there were cracks. But by shaking hands, how can there be cracks. It can only lead to friendship and small problems do occur," Advani said in his address at the well-attended rally.
While Kumar's immediate reaction was not available, JD(U) spokesman and his close associate Shivanand Tiwari maintained that the photograph showing Kumar and Modi shaking hands has "definitely dealt a blow to the agenda being pursued by the NDA in Bihar. "We will not appreciate any such action which will weaken the agenda of NDA in Bihar as JD(U) is a Bihar-based party," he said.
Earlier, when the photograph was taken at Ludhiana, the party had objected to that, he said.
"We appreciate the gesture of Advani that Kumar should have been present at the rally. But, it was not possible as it was a rally of the BJP and not NDA. Nitish and Advani have enjoyed good relations for a long period. They were both ministers in the Vajpayee government," Tiwari said soon after meeting Kumar, who returned to the state capital from Nawada.
An upset Kumar had cancelled dinner he was hosting for the BJP top brass yesterday. In the previous state polls and the Lok Sabha elections, Kumar had not allowed Modi to campaign in Bihar.
With the Bihar Assembly elections due later this year, the JD(U) leader has made it known that he would not like to be seen with Modi, the face of hardline Hindutva, and be associated with any move that could anger his Muslim votebase, constituting 16 per cent of the state's population. While Advani reached out to Kumar, significantly, no other BJP leader, including party chief Nitin Gadkari or Modi, took the Bihar Chief Minister's name.
A senior BJP leader had said that Kumar was "over-reacting" and "this is not the way to treat your ally". Reports stated that two JD(U) MPs, Monazir Hasan and Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan, favoured snapping of ties with BJP.
However, JD(U) President Sharad Yadav, who is also NDA Convenor, downplayed the controversy emphasising that the two parties have "old ties" and that the "unpleasant" incident has been left behind.
Echoing similar sentiments, a senior BJP leader, who declined to be identified, claimed the stand-off was a "storm in a tea cup which has blown over. Modi overstretched. Nitish over-reacted".
At the two-day conclave, BJP targeted the Congress-led UPA at the Centre, passing two resolutions, one on "step-motherly treatment to non-Congress-ruled states" and other attacking its performance during its one year rule in the second term.
It also passed a resolution critical of the ruling party with regard to the Bhopal gas tragedy with Modi wondering why Congress President Sonia Gandhi was silent on revealing who the "merchants of death" were in the world's worst industrial disaster.
At the rally, Advani fondly recalled how in 1995 Kumar had attended the BJP's national convention in Mumbai when he invited then Samata Party ailing leader George Fernandes for the meet. Kumar has since then been a part of the NDA and was a senior minister for six years in the Vajpayee government.
"I would have been very happy if Nitish was present here today at this grand rally and addressed it with us," Advani said.
Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley alleged that the government was incapable of bringing back either Union Carbide Chief Warren Anderson, Bofors accused Ottavio Quattrochi or 26/11 mastermind David Coleman Headley. PTI