PATNA: In yet another rebuff to ally BJP in general and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in particular, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar was on Saturday learned to have ensured the refund of Rs 5 crore the Gujarat government had provided to flood-hit Bihar in 2008.
The move comes only days after Kumar, who heads the NDA government in the state, was shown holding hands with Modi in advertisements that were splashed in Bihar newspapers on the eve of BJP's national executive meet in Patna on June 12 and 13. Angry over the use of his photograph without his permission, Kumar had told newsmen he would initiate legal action against it. Asked about Modi's claim, as made in the ads, to have helped Bihar during the worst-ever Kosi floods, Kumar had tersely shot back, "The money would be returned with interest."
While Kumar was away from Patna on a pre-election yatra on Saturday, top state officials were not aware of the development. "Such aids are part of the CM Relief Fund which is operated by the CM's secretariat," a senior bureaucrat said.
Chanchal Kumar, secretary to the CM and incharge of the CM Relief Fund, had his cellphone switched off on Saturday noon as he was said to be accompanying the CM. CM secretariat sources, however, confirmed the cheque, signed by Chanchal, had been sent to Ahmedabad by speed post. "The exact amount is not known, but it must be more than Rs 5 crore with interest," a source said.
Interestingly, Gujarat babus refused to either confirm or deny the receipt. "We are not supposed to talk about it," a senior official told TOI in Ahmedabad.
The Modi-Nitish spar, political observers said, may adversely affect the BJP-JD(U) alliance already under strain after Kumar, as an immediate response to the controversial ads, cancelled the dinner he was to host for the BJP national executive members on June 12. A section of state BJP leaders had angrily reacted to the "humiliation" and urged the leadership to sever ties with the JD(U).
However, BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani later sought to placate Nitish. "By holding hands, I feel, it is only affection that grows," Advani told the party's Swabhiman Rally at the city's Gandhi Maidan on June 13. JD(U) president Sharad Yadav had also downplayed the issue and said things had been sorted out and all was well.
But Nitish, who has been pulling out all the stops to woo Muslims ever since he assumed power in Bihar, appears to be seriously angry at the unsolicited public display of affection by Modi, described by many as 'maut ka saudagar' for his alleged role in riots against Muslims in Gujarat.