In a snub to Narendra Modi after his government advertised Kosi flood relief donation, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has returned Rs 5 crore given by the Gujarat Chief Minister for the flood victims.
Kumar has returned the Rs 5 crore lying unspent in the CM's relief account that was received from Gujarat after floods devastated large parts of the Kosi river belt in 2008, officials said on Saturday. The move comes after local papers last week carried advertisements about the help given by the Gujarat government for Kosi flood victims.
Kumar had criticised the Gujarat government's claim that it had liberally donated aid to Bihar during the 2008 Kosi floods, calling it "uncivilised".
The Bihar Chief Minister had also taken strong exception to the use of a photograph with Modi in another advertisement published in local dailies and had even threatened to take legal action against those responsible.
"The Gujarat government's claim (on flood relief) is uncivilised and against Indian culture. Nobody claims of bestowing favours on those who face tragedy caused by natural calamities," Kumar, who heads the JD(U)-BJP government in Bihar, had said.
Devesh Thakur, Disaster Management Minister, Bihar, said, "We don't appreciate the fact that someone like honourable Chief Minister Narendra Modi coming and taking credit for that after two years (of giving money for Kosi victims). So we thought why not bring it back to square one and return the money."
Asked if the decision would affect the relationship between JD(U) and the BJP), he said, "As of now I don't think there is any problem. That was a localised and on the spot problem that had cropped up. I think we are running the government so far so good. I don't think there is any problem as of now".
Thakur said the JD(U) did not want to spoil its secular image. "Inspite of being with the BJP right or wrong, BJP does not have a non-secular image in the country. We are not going to debate the merits of that....We have maintained our secular image and the government's secular image and we have a done a lot of things for the welfare of the minorities in the last five year. We don't want this to be upset by someone whose secular image is tainted. We don't want them to come this last minute and upset this image we have created in the last five years," Thakur said.
The JD(U) leader, who has an eye on Muslim votes, has fashioned himself as a secular leader and in the past had avoided sharing any platform with Modi in Bihar. The decision to return the money comes at a time when the parties are preparing for the Assembly elections in the state due later this year. Kumar has kept Modi at an arm's length apparently to woo Muslim voters.
He had specifically asked the BJP not to use Modi, who had received flak for the 2002 Gujarat riots, in its campaign in the state during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
JD(U) national spokesman Shivanand Tiwari said what Kumar has done was in conformity with his announcement on June 12. "Please ask the BJP and its leaders," Tiwari said when asked whether the decision would impact the alliance.
Meanwhile, senior BJP minister Giriraj Singh said the return of the funds was "against Constitutional prestige". "It reflects an uncultured decision not permitted in politics," he said.
Singh said when Modi had expressed sympathy and commitment for the people of Bihar and had accepted with full humility the support his state had received at the time of the Surat quake from Bihar, the controversy over the issue should have ended there.
Senior BJP leader Prem Kumar, the Road Construction minister also disapproved of the state government returning the funds. "The way it has been returned is not acceptable ... after all, it was meant for relief for flood victims."
He urged the chief minister to reconsider his decision as "it may harm the alliance between BJP and JD(U)."
BJP leader and senior MLA Rameshwar Chowrasia said the chief minister had taken an 'immature' decision. "Bihar had also donated for Gujarat during the earthquake in Surat and I am unable to comprehend what was the message he wanted to give the people of the state," he said. In Delhi, JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav said the alliance with BJP in Bihar would continue.
"The ties between the two parties are old and they will continue. There is no question of any break-up", he said.
The "unpleasantness" over the publication of Kumar s photograph with that of Modi in an advertisement published in Bihar dailies was over on the day it had appeared, Yadav said.
Assembly elections in Bihar are due by October-November this year and the BJP has recently held its national executive in Patna which saw launch of the party's campaign seeking a second term for the NDA in the state. The two parties had contested the Rajya Sabha polls together
But the BJP in Delhi took a potshot at Nitish Kumar. BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said the funds were given in a spirit of solidarity and empathy with the victims and wondered if these sentiments were also being sent back.
"When the money was given it was as a token of solidarity, empathy and grief felt by the people of Gujarat for the suffering endured by flood affected people of Bihar," she told PTI. She noted that Kumar's decision has come subsequent to an advertisement given by some Bihari youth in local newspapers.
"The money was received in the same spirit by Bihar in which it was given by Gujarat. Now due to a certain advertisement, the Chief Minister has chose to return the money. I wonder if only the money is being returned or also the feeling of empathy, solidarity and spirit of togetherness is also being returned," Sitharaman said.