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Modi-Nitish then & now — Two photos, taken 13 yrs apart, reflect ‘cycle that’s moved full circle’

From a time when the prime minister, then the Gujarat CM, had become persona non grata in Bihar, to now, when the BJP has eclipsed its NDA partner JD(U) in the Bihar assembly.

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Patna: A photograph of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar stooping to greet Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the swearing-in ceremony of Yogi Adityanath in Lucknow Friday has caught Twitter by storm. It also prompted many social media users, politicians among them, to recall an earlier picture of the two taken at a 2009 rally in Punjab, which had almost brought the alliance between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) to a breaking point.

Bas ab per pakadna baaki hai (The only thing left is for Nitish to touch Modi’s feet),” quipped the CM’s main rival political party Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) on Twitter while sharing the latest picture, purportedly quoting Nitish as once saying: “Mitti mein mil jaunga BJP mein nahi jaunga (I will let the earth swallow me but won’t go with BJP).”

The two photographs, taken 13 years apart, reflect the changing equations between the two leaders from a time when Modi became persona non grata in Bihar after the 2002 Gujarat riots and Nitish had thoughts about severing ties with the BJP, to now, when the BJP has eclipsed its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partner in the Bihar assembly, with 77 MLAs as opposed to JD(U)’s 45.

A BJP MLA who did not wish to be named told ThePrint that the “cycle has moved full circle”. 

“In 2009, Nitish Kumar was considered a possible PM candidate who could take on Narendra Modi. In 2021, Nitish Kumar has no option but to stay on with the BJP as RJD is not ready to accept him as CM. That’s the story told by the two photos,” he added.

The BJP and JD(U) played down the criticism. “The RJD are frustrated because they  know that united, CM Nitish Kumar and PM Modi will spoil their chances of staging a comeback in Bihar. They have been spreading false rumours about a split between BJP and JDU,” remarked BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel. 

Referring to the latest photo taken at Adityanath’s swearing in, JDU spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan said it was a “show of decency by a chief minister to a democratically elected PM”. 

“Nitish Kumar has always been known to maintain public decency. If the RJD thinks that a CM greeting a PM is surrender, they are mentally sick,” he added.

Also Read: As Nitish stays absent, Speaker Sinha returns to Assembly & claims truce. But storm not over yet

The latest photo

The Friday photo of Nitish and Modi was viciously attacked by the Lalu Prasad Yadav-founded RJD as well as others on social media. 

The Bihar CM, who arrived late at the ceremony, headed straight towards Modi and Adityanath.

“Even at this age he can bend 90 degrees. Kamaal hai (amazing),” remarked one user, while another, Pankaj Bharatiya, remarked: “Modi sharanam gachhami (Taking refuge of Modi).” 

Meanwhile, speaking to reporters outside the state legislature, former Bihar chief minister and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s wife Rabri Devi claimed that Nitish Kumar “fell on the feet” of the prime minister in Lucknow, adding: “Kuch majboori hogi… (must be some compulsion).”

“Nitish was ready to touch the feet of PM Modi. Modi stopped him,” tweeted RJD national vice-president Shivanand Tiwari. 

The other photo

The 2009 photo showed Nitish Kumar and Modi, then Gujarat CM, holding hands at a Shiromani Akali Dal rally in Jalandhar, the same year Lok Sabha elections were held in Bihar. In 2010, it appeared as part of a full-page advertisement in local newspapers when the BJP was holding its national executive meet in Patna.

File photo of then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar at a rally in Punjab in 2009 | PTI
File photo of then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar at a rally in Punjab in 2009 | PTI

The Bihar CM was slated to host a dinner for BJP leaders attending the meeting, but cancelled the same in a temper. He said he would return the Rs 5 crore sent by the Gujarat government for victims of the 2008 Bihar floods. 

He even had thoughts about breaking his party’s alliance with the BJP. He did break the alliance in 2013, when it became clear that Narendra Modi would be the PM candidate. “After Nitish cancelled the dinner, I had asked Nitish to break off ties with BJP. But other leaders convinced him to continue the alliance,” said former JD(U) MP Shivanand Tiwari. 

Changing equations

After the 2002 Gujarat riots, Modi’s name was not uttered publicly by BJP leaders, and during the 2010 Bihar assembly polls, the party put images of Nitish on its posters instead of those of its own leaders. 

Come 2013, Modi held the ‘Hunkar’ rally at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan. The only other occasion when he came to Bihar was in November that year to pay tribute to former governor of Gujarat late Kailashpati Mishra. The protocol was kept at bare minimum and only a handful of state BJP leaders were present to receive him, sources told ThePrint.

The anti-Modi stance taken by Nitish Kumar was aimed at luring away the 17 per cent Muslim population from Lalu Prasad Yadav, and establish himself as an independent political force. But in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Muslims stuck to Lalu’s RJD. The BJP and its allies won 32 seats. JD(U) came out with just two seats and 15 per cent of the votes. Muslims voted for JD(U) candidates in the 2015 assembly elections, when the party was in a grand alliance or ‘Mahagathbandhan’ with Lalu’s RJD and the Congress. 

“Nitish Kumar’s shift back to the BJP in 2017 was strongly based on the calculation that the JD(U)-BJP alliance would be able to defeat RJD without Muslim votes,” a JD(U) MP, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint. 

The day Nitish quit the grand alliance in 2017 and joined the BJP, PM Modi was the first to welcome him, through a tweet. Since then, relationships have swung. Nitish has been able to take an independent stand on several issues like caste census and NCR. But at the same time, several of his requests like making Patna University a central university and special status for Bihar have been ignored. Moreover, his plea for more ministerial berths at the Centre, has been overlooked. 

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: After Yogi’s UP win, Bihar BJP MLAs call for ‘bulldozer’ govt there too. Ally JD(U) not amused


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