Bhopal: Narendra Modi touched LK Advani's feet on a huge stage in Bhopal today, but the BJP's senior-most leader scripted yet another awkward moment for the party by barely looking at the party's prime ministerial candidate.
All the BJP's top leaders, including party president Rajnath Singh, looked on. They were attending a massive rally in election-bound Madhya Pradesh to campaign for Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who will seek a third term as Chief Minister in Assembly elections due in November.
The BJP has, however, billed the big show as a Narendra Modi rally.
On stage, Rajnath Singh was seated between Mr Modi and Mr Advani, the latter unsmiling. The veteran leader spoke first, the Gujarat Chief Minister last. In his address, Mr Advani praised Mr Modi's work in Gujarat, but added others to his list of BJP chief ministers with creditable achievements. Most notably Mr Chouhan.
All through as he spoke, the two lakh-strong crowd chanted Mr Modi's name.
"People across India say there is a BJP wave," Mr Modi said, offering copious praise for host Shivraj Singh Chouhan's performance in Madhya Pradesh. "What the Congress could not do in 50 years, Shivraj Chouhan has done thrice as much in 10 years," he asserted.
This was the first time that Mr Modi and Mr Advani came together on a public platform since the BJP named the Gujarat Chief Minister its prime ministerial candidate overriding Mr Advani's objections. The last time the two leaders met was at Ram Jethmalani's party birthday two days after the BJP named Mr Modi its prime ministerial candidate.
Mr Advani had stayed away from a crucial meeting called to make the Modi announcement, blowing to bits Rajnath Singh's fondest hopes of a show of unity and strength. The party has had it hopes pinned on the Bhopal rally presenting a more united party leadership.
In her speech, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharti attempted to evoke memories of friendlier days. "Mr Modi once told me that the closer you get to Mr Advani, you like him that much more," she said.
It's been a tough balancing act for host Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who took no chances with potentially fragile egos, ensuring that each top leader was greeted with massive garlands, all the same size; a gigantic cut-out of each towers over the venue.
Mr Chouhan has often been pitted against Mr Modi within the party, but since the Modi announcement he has gone out of his way to demonstrate that he is on the same side as the party's presumptive PM.