The rift between the Bharatiya Janata Party and ally Janata Dal-United widened on Sunday with Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi pulling out of functions to be addressed by Nitish Kumar to protest the return of flood relief money to Gujarat, after which the chief minister cancelled his programme.
Apart from Modi, Health Minister and BJP leader N K Yadav, who represents the Patna City constituency, also stayed away from the Chief Minister's 'Biswas Yatra', a day after Nitish Kumar returned Rs 5 crore of flood relief money to the Narendra Modi government.
"I don't want to accompany (Nitish) Kumar for the meeting for the arbitrary attitude of the chief minister in returning the flood relief money to the government of Gujarat," a fuming Modi told media persons in Patna after cancelling his programme with the chief minister as part of the 'Biswas Yatra' at Paliganj in Patna district.
However, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav asserted that his party's alliance will BJP will continue despite the "unfortunate" advertisement episode involving Nitish and his Gujarat counterpart.
"Our alliance with NDA is old and our intention is that it should continue. The incidents of June 12 were unfortunate but are now behind us. What has passed has passed. After June 12 we fought Rajya Sabha polls together," Yadav said in New Delhi where BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain met him.
Hussain, a BJP spokesperson, later said the top party brass will discuss the developments in Bihar on Monday.
"BJP central leadership is keeping an eye on the political situation in Bihar. Our party president and other senior leaders are not in the capital. They will be here tomorrow and we will discuss the issue," he said.
Sharad Yadav maintained that the events of June 12 -- when Nitish expressed his ire at an advertisement issued by Bihari migrants thanking Modi for flood relief to Bihar -- will not harm the JD-U-BJP alliance and added, "That has passed and we should look ahead".
Though Nitish went ahead with the programme in Paliganj and addressed the meeting, he cancelled the function in Patna city this evening after he came to know that besides Modi, state NDA convenor Yadav, believed to be his close confidante, had decided not to attend the programme in the constituency which he won five times in a row.
"The chief minister's official programme (Biswas Yatra) during which he was to visit the Patna City area represented by the senior BJP Minister Yadav stands cancelled," a top official said.
The Yatra was launched in April by Nitish to reach out to the electorate ahead of the Assembly elections due later this year.
N K Yadav said that the BJP central leadership had taken the issue of Nitish's returning the flood relief fund to Gujarat "very, very seriously" and has sought reconsideration of the chief minister's stand on the issue.
"We have taken the development seriously and we don't want to do politics over funds meant for relief of flood-hit victims," Modi said.
BJP insiders said Modi had also apprised party leaders in New Delhi about the alleged "highhandedness and the arbitrary way" in which Nitish handled the situation without taking BJP top brass in the state into confidence.
The official stand of the party was that Nitish must reconsider his decision of returning the money to Gujarat, as it was not the relief assistance from an individual but from the hard-earned money of the people of that state.
Sources close to Bihar BJP chief C P Thakur said that Thakur and other senior BJP leaders from Bihar are likely to discuss the developments with the central leadership of the party to decide whether to continue the alliance or break ties with JD(U).
The party was working towards mending the strained relationship and finding a "cure" for the problems between them, they said.
Nitish had on Saturday said the decision to return the relief money was taken last Saturday and "there is nothing new this Saturday".
The crisis in the NDA emerged after Nitish reacted sharply to an advertisement in the local dailies on the eve of the June 12-13 BJP national executive meeting, which said that the Gujarat government, led by Narendra Modi, contributed liberally towards relief for victims of the 2008 Kosi floods.
Nitish had termed this claim as "uncivilised", saying any gesture of help should not be proclaimed publicly and threatened to return the unspent amount to Gujarat.
The JD-U leader's posturing is understood to be in keeping with his attempt to woo the Muslim electorate in poll-bound Bihar.
He had also vociferously objected to another advertisement showing him holding hands with Narendra Modi, the hardline Hindutva face of key ally BJP. The opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal-Lok Janshakti Party combine had charged Kumar with playing politics on the issue of flood relief and alleged that Nitish's action in this regard was nothing short of an absurdity.
The LJP on Sunday dared the BJP to sever its ties with the JD-U over the humiliating treatment meted out to it by Nitish.
"Nitish Kumar has humiliated BJP so much that if it has any self-esteem, it should immediately snap its ties with JD(U)," Paswan said.