“Two years ago, Nitish accepted it in the spirit of brotherhood... We feel hurt and let down”

“The money was from the people of Gujarat for the flood-affected people of Bihar. It would have been better had the money not been returned. It was an expression of solidarity and a sharing of pain. No one should play politics with disaster relief,” BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Saturday.

He was reacting to Bihar Chief Nitish Kumar returning to Gujarat the Rs.5 crore sent by Chief Minister Narendra Modi towards relief for victims of the 2008 Kosi floods.

Mr. Prasad, however, sought to dismiss Mr. Kumar's action as of little consequence for his party's 15-year alliance with the Janata Dal (United).

Another BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said: “Two years ago Mr. Kumar accepted the relief money in the spirit in which it was sent — an expression of bhaichara [brotherhood]. We feel hurt and let down.”

On June 12, opening day of the BJP conclave in Patna, Mr. Kumar announced that he would return the money as Mr. Modi had been “uncivilised” enough to mention this act of charity in full-page advertisements that appeared in local dailies that day. Mr. Prasad admitted his party was “not consulted” by Mr. Kumar on the decision to return the money, although it was a coalition partner in the Bihar government.

To pointed questions whether the BJP was compromising on its self-respect in continuing with the alliance despite these “insults,” he said: “We know how to protect our self-respect.”

Only a few days ago did the BJP give six surplus votes to the JD (U) in the Rajya Sabha election to help it win two seats.

Even though JD(U) president Sharad Yadav was quick to say these problems would have no bearing on the alliance — the Assembly elections are due in about four months — there are sizable and influential groups within both parties which favour their “going it alone.”

In the JD(U), there is a view that in a four-way contest — among the Congress, the BJP, the JD (U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Lok Jan Shakti Party alliance — the JD(U) could manage a victory. In the BJP, there are tall leaders who feel that sooner or later the party will have to drop the JD(U) crutch to halt its decline in Bihar.

The explanation for the Modi-centric controversy was simple, say leaders of both parties. The JD(U) wanted a larger share of the Muslim vote and also to show that Mr. Kumar would have nothing to do with Mr. Modi, while the BJP wanted to boost its workers' morale and give a push to its hardcore Hindutva support base.

“A mock fight”

In the rival RJD and LJP camp, the entire episode has been dismissed as a mock fight. “Was not Mr. Kumar a member of the Vajpayee Cabinet when the [2002] riots took place in Gujarat? Why the allergy to him [Mr. Modi] now? Why did he not resign from his position then,” LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan.

Absurd, says Lalu

PTI reports from Patna:

RJD supremo Lalu Prasad said Mr. Kumar returning the relief money was “nothing but an absurdity.” “Yeh ek ooncchi harkat se kam nahin hai (It is nothing short of an absurdity),” Mr. Lalu Prasad told reporters. .

“Your [Chief Minister's] action has defamed Bihar... Now, people will think before extending support to the State in times of natural calamities,” Mr. Prasad said.

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