Why would a mere birthday wish cause such excitement in several circles? Well, it does not stay ‘mere’ when the people involved are Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar’s chief minister Nitish Kumar. Even such innocuous exchange of greetings are bound to be read with deep political meanings if it involves such heavyweights.
For those not in the know, Nitish Kumar turned 66 on Wednesday and the prime minister, speaking to him on phone, wished him long life and good health. Later, he mentioned it in his post on Twitter.
It would be a routine matter, if it were not for the turbulent history of their relationship. It has taken many twists and bitter turns over the last decade. After his massive electoral loss in the parliamentary polls of 2004, Nitish – then the leader of the JD(U)-BJP alliance – sought to distance himself from Modi in an aggressive fashion. He was convinced that any association with the then Gujarat chief minister would extract a heavy political price from him in Bihar. The Gujarat riots had taken place in 2002 and Muslim voters in the state didn’t look kindly at Modi.
In the Assembly elections of 2005, Nitish took the firm stand that Modi won’t campaign in Bihar. After he rose back to power, he made it clear to the BJP that the latter was not welcome in the state. He did not allow Modi to campaign in the parliamentary polls of 2009. The relation got acrimonious when he refused to accept Rs 5 crore sent by the Gujarat government for victims of Kosi floods. The turbulent equations continued till the Assembly elections of 2015 through the general election of 2014, which the BJP won with thumping majority.
However, of late, the relation between both has taken a turn for the better. Nitish was among the first top leaders of the country to support the demonetisation. Modi has been appreciating the governance of Nitish and his positive approach to progressive policies. Political observers see it as a clever ploy from both to build bridges with a political strategy in mind. For Nitish, it is a good way to put pressure on alliance partner Rashtriya Janata Dal which has been acting difficult. For Modi and the BJP, it is a question of keeping future allies ready, just in case.
Modi’s call to Nitish on Wednesday thus assumes importance. The turbulence is now a thing of the past. It could be just a courtesy call today but not without its political significance.
Updated Date: Mar 01, 2017 16:31 PM