The rift between Bihar's ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) widened Sunday, with Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi boycotting a joint march in rural Patna and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar quickly hitting back by cancelling a similar event here later in the day.
The Sushil Modi-Nitish Kumar face-off came even as top leaders of the two parties flexed their muscles over differences that seem to threaten their alliance ahead of assembly elections in October this year.
Sushil Modi stayed away from the Sunday morning 'Vishwash Yatra' (Confidence March) at Paliganj in rural Patna, a day after the chief minister returned the Rs.5 crore aid money given by the Gujarat government during the Bihar floods in 2008.
In no time, Nitish Kumar retaliated likewise. The chief minister cancelled a similar march scheduled to be held in Old Patna Sunday evening.
The JD-U chief minister and BJP deputy chief minister of Bihar have in recent months taken part jointly in several marches to showcase the state government's development programmes.
Old Patna is considered a stronghold of Bihar Health Minister and BJP leader Nand Kishore Yadav, who is angry over Nitish Kumar's decision to return the money given by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Yadav reportedly told his party workers not to join the Sunday evening march.
Once it became known that Nitish Kumar would not take part in the evening march, BJP activists became furious. They shouted slogans denouncing him and burnt him in effigy.
Some BJP leaders, including Public Health and Engineering Department Minister Ashwani Kumar Chaubey, Road Minister Prem Kumar and Cooperatives Minister Griraj Singh, have openly questioned the decision to return the money given by the Gujarat government.
They called it "unfortunate" and an insult to the people of both states.
BJP legislator Rameshwar Chowrasia said the people would not pardon Nitish Kumar.
On his part, Nitish Kumar has justified his decision, saying the Gujarat government and Narendra Modi erred by talking about their aid to Bihar. "What they did was against the principles of our culture," he said.
A BJP leader who did not want to be identified told IANS that Sushil Modi boycotted the first march of the day because of resentment among BJP leaders and activists over the way Nitish Kumar is behaving, informed sources told IANS.
Nitish Kumar was miffed over newspaper advertisements featuring him and the Gujarat chief minister and the latter referring to the aid provided by Gujarat during the 2008 floods.
On June 12, Nitish Kumar had cancelled a dinner he was to host for BJP leaders attending its National Executive meeting here after the full page advertisements appeared in vernacular dailies.
Some believe that the Nitish Kumar-BJP row was the most serious crisis affecting the two parties that are both members of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Both JD-U president Sharad Yadav and BJP state president C.P. Thakur sounded conciliatory. Yadav emphasized that the BJP-JD-U ties were old and time-tested while Thakur said he was confident that the situation would be normal in two days.