Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar warmly shaking hands looked like a picture perfect occasion. Their handshakes, as also the barbs have always made news and had loaded political implications.
On Tuesday, Nitish had gone to meet Modi to discuss the flood situation in Bihar and seek Centre's intervention and assistance, both immediate and longer term. The Centre has already deployed several teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) in Bihar for immediate rescue and relief works. Apart from the immediate relief, the Bihar Chief Minister requested the Prime Minister to send specialised Central teams to make an on spot assessment of the damage and to formulate a long-term National Siltation Policy to de-silt river barrages and dig trenches so that the extent of flood fury could be minimised in the future.
It was interesting to note that while seeking Central assistance, Nitish endorsed Modi's cherished Namani Ganga Programme, stressing that uninterrupted flow of the Ganges was vital to the economy and societal good. He elaborated to suggest how he himself was keen to see success of this ambitious programme.
Mark Nitish's words said after meeting with Modi. He (Nitish)was born and brought up on banks of Ganga and even had his early education in the same vicinity. By saying so, he sought to make a deep emotional connect with the Ganga.
Recall what Modi had to say when he had gone to contest parliamentary election from Varanasi: "I have been called here by mother Ganga." By saying so, he was trying to convey a deep emotional connect he had with Ganga and its flow. Two different situations concerning two different leaders but their sentiments are the same.
The ravaging flood waters of the Ganga forced Nitish to meet Modi and seek help but perhaps in a much friendlier manner than before. The federal structure of the Indian polity demands that the Centre and the states work in close cooperation over all issues. Taken on its face value, today's meeting between the two leaders can be dubbed as routine. But Modi and Nitish over the years have had a politically most gripping love-hate relationship. For the last three years they remained sworn political rivals. The political rivalry still remains to be the same but it was heartening to see the emerging co-operative federalism between them.
In 2008, when the swollen Kosi river left a trail of destruction leaving the Bihar government almost in a state of helplessness to tackle the unfolding natural calamity, Modi as Gujarat chief minister then did sent out lots of relief material to Bihar. He even donated Rs 5 crore to the Bihar chief minister's relief fund. So far so good.
However, in June 2010 and things changed drastically. The BJP was holding its National Executive in Patna ahead of the state Assembly polls. Although the JD(U)-BJP combine was then ruling the state and alliance was expected to go together in the elections, Nitish had quietly started wooing the Muslim electorate, particularly the Pasmanda community in the state. The day Modi (first significant visit after rising to prominence) landed in Bihar on 12 June to attend the BJP conclave, an advertisement was placed in prominent dailies with picture from a 2009 NDA rally in Punjab, where Modi and Nitish were holding hands together. Later, an infuriated Nitish cancelled dinner for the BJP leaders which he was to host that night and three days later he returned Rs 5 crore cheque sent by Modi to the Gujarat government. Modi-Nitish relations had hit the lowest ebb, finally culminating in Nitish severing ties with the BJP in 2013 after Modi was announced to be his party's leader to lead the 2014 parliamentary campaign.
The irony of today's picture where Modi is warmly receiving Nitish and the two leaders having a friendly hand shake couldn't be more stark.
Eight years ago Modi's helping hand for flood relief assistance and a subsequent picture indicating bonhomie between the two had separated them but today the need to seek assistance from the Centre for rescue and relief in flood affected areas in Bihar made Nitish to land at official residence of the Prime Minister. In changed scenario, the two wouldn't have recalled events of 2008 and thereafter. After all politics is about learning art of possible.