JD-U wanted an early decision on the number of seats each NDA partner will share
New Delhi: Amit Shah, the BJP's master strategist on a mission to mollify his party's not-so-happy partner in Patna this week had prophesised the outcome much earlier. "Stop drooling", the BJP president told his political rivals waiting for the NDA government to collapse. He also continued to work on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, sending messages in public and private, that the BJP did value their partnership and was willing to walk the extra mile. The clearest sign of the shift in the BJP's tone came much later when the party unequivocally conceded that Nitish Kumar was the NDA's big brother and face in Bihar.
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"Of course, we don't have any problem in treating Nitishji as the elder brother and the NDA's face as he is leading the biggest party in the Bihar government," CP Thakur, former union minister and senior Bihar BJP leader told NDTV.
CP Thakur's conciliatory statement is a sharp contrast to the narrative put out till a few days back when the BJP leaders spoke about Nitish Kumar's limited options outside the NDA including his party's disastrous performance in 2014 general elections when it went solo and ended up with just 2 seats.
Relations between the two allies, who rebuilt their partnership just about 12 months ago, have been strained for some time, lately over concerns within the JDU that the BJP was trying to short change them in allocation of seats. Nitish Kumar told a party meeting in Delhi last week that a decision would be taken only after the BJP makes the offer.
Mr Shah is also learnt to have advised leaders known to make provocative statements to exercise restraint. It hasn't gone unnoticed in the JDU camp that Mr Shah kept a distance from union minister Giriraj Kishore, otherwise seen to be close to the party chief, during this visit.
There were some missed heartbeats when Amit Shah didn't come out to receive Nitish Kumar for the breakfast meeting at the state guest house, leaving it instead to his man Friday Bhupendra Yadav. But the BJP quickly made amends, allowing photographers to take shots inside. On his way out, Mr Shah made it a point to walk him out to the gate to see off Nitish Kumar.
The dinner meet, sources told NDTV, went off much better. The mood was much lighter, peppered with jokes and anecdotes about the origins of the fodder scam in the 1990s that is haunting their rival, Lalu Yadav. The former chief minister, who is out on bail on health grounds, has been sentenced to 14 years in jail. It helped that the two individuals who petitioned the high court and kept the probe agency CBI on its feet - Sushil Modi of the BJP and Lalan Singh of the JDU - also shared some back stories on the probe.
There was also acknowledgement how the centre's Saubhagya Yojana to reach electricity to each house was inspired by Nitish Kumar's "Har Ghar Bijli" scheme for Bihar.
A JDU leader told NDTV how the party had been pleasantly surprised at Amit Shah's heaping praise on Nitish Kumar at the Bapu community hall, a state of the art auditorium and declared that his party knew how to carry along its alliance partners. "In many ways, this was the clincher.... It laid the foundation for the dinner later in the evening," he said.
It was at the one-on-one meeting between Mr Shah and the chief minister that their party leaders believe, the two discussed the contentious issues.
One of the messages that Mr Shah reportedly left with, was that Nitish Kumar's party wanted an early decision on the number of seats each NDA partner will share. The JDU has made it clear that it cannot accept anything less than 15 seats. Bihar sends 40 lawmakers to Lok Sabha.