In a new twist to the Nitish-Modi war that could cause further strain between long time allies BJP and Janata Dal United (JD(U)), sources say the Bihar government has returned the Rs 5 crore cheque given by the Gujarat government for Kosi flood relief. (Read:Standoff in Bihar - Modi challenges Nitish on home turf)
The decision is believed to have been taken after local papers carried advertisements about this help by the Gujarat government, prior to the BJP national executive meeting in Patna on June 12. (Read:Modi praises people of Bihar, silent on Nitish Kumar)
Nitish had criticised the Gujarat government's claim that it had liberally donated aid to Bihar during the 2008 Kosi floods, calling it "uncivilised".
With Assembly elections due later this year, Nitish Kumar has made it known that he would not like to be seen with Modi, the face of hardline Hindutva, and be associated with any move that could anger Muslim voters, who constitute 16 per cent of the state's population.
Commenting on the development, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said, "Whatever happened, happened last Monday itself, why are you asking me now?" (Turns and walks away...)
However, the Narendra Modi Government termed as "unfortunate" the move by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to return Rs five crore given by Gujarat for the victims of Kosi floods. (Read: Nitish's decision to return money unfortunate,says Gujarat govt
Meanwhile, Bihar's Disaster Management Minister Devesh Thakur said, "Right or wrong, I'm not going to debate on that. But Narendra Modi has acquired a non-secular image in this country. We didn't want our secular image to be damaged by a person whose secular image is tainted. So this decision was taken."
He also said that this is a snub to BJP, not to the people of Gujarat.
JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav has, however, said that this incident is not going to affect their alliance with the BJP. "The BJP-JD(U) coalition will not be affected," he said. (Watch: JD(U)-BJP alliance intact, says Sharad Yadav
Tension mounted between the BJP and the JD(U) during the BJP's national executive meet in Patna last week when a controversial advertisement showing Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi holding hands together upset Nitish so much that he cancelled a dinner with BJP leaders.(Read:After ad row, Nitish cancels dinner for BJP leaders)
Later, at a rally, the Gujarat chief minister remarked, "Instead of waiting for the Centre to react on the Kosi floods, we announced 5 crores, and I sent my officer to take the cheque to Bihar and make sure they get it."
But this did not go down well with the JD(U). "The way Mr Modi advertised himself and his Kosi grant is against etiquette. Bihar government helped Latur when earthquake struck the region. The right way is to help someone in need and not publicise himself," said Shivanand Tiwari, spokesperson, JD(U).
The BJP, meanwhile, is trying to douse the fire. "There is no point having a tit for tat in the politics, be it any party. All I can say is that whatever is happening is unfortunate. Statements coming from Mr Tiwari should not be coming," said C P Thakur, Bihar BJP chief.
Hitting out at Nitish Kumar for returning flood relief money to Gujarat, actor-politician and BJP Lok Sabha MP from Patna Saheb Shatrughan Sinha said it reflected Kumar's "arrogance" and wanted the BJP leadership to deal firmly with him so that the party's "self-respect" is not compromised.
Commenting on the issue, party's spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "On Kosi flood relief, there has been talk of returning the money. Wherever there has been a national calamity one state helps the other. In relief there is no politics, if the money had not been returned it would have been good. The money sent by the Gujarat government was the money of the people.