To what extent can one go to win the votes of the Muslims in Bihar? And how petty can one be in such matters? There were terrific floods in Bihar in 2008. Thousands of people were made homeless and they needed immediate assistance. On behalf of the State of Gujarat and its people, its Chief Minister, Narendra Modi sent a cheque for Rs five crore to the Bihar Government towards quick relief of the flood victims. Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar accepted it with grace, in the spirit in which it was offered, an expression of brotherhood. The money was not drawn from Modi’s personal account. If that were so, it would have been indecent on Modi’s part to publicise it.
The money was remitted as from one state to another in a show of profound concern. The government is accountable to the public on how money is spent and the Chief Minister was within his rights to say how, but he could have let it be known in the Gujarati and not the Bihar media. Word would still have reached the Bihari people. One understands that among all the Indian states, Gujarat’s contribution was the highest. Rs five crore was only a small part of what Gujarat despatched to Patna by way of help. According to accounts, the Gujarat government rushed 63 officials and teams equipped with the latest rescue and relief gadgets and materials, 36 doctors, 56 para-medics, 80 fire-brigade personnel, 15 EMRI-fitted ambulances as mobile hospitals and six medical teams who worked in Bihar for months together. Besides, it is claimed, Gujarat sent two special trains comprising 80 wagons, carrying relief material worth more than Rs 20 crore.
If the Bihar Government had any sense of decency, on the anniversary day of the floods, it would have put it an advertisement in important newspapers thanking all donors including the Government of Gujarat, for their thoughtfulness and care. It would have raised Bihar’s prestige sky-high. Where does the question of self-respect come in the picture? Even some Gujarati Congressmen have expressed their hurt because of Nitish Kumar’s show of anger and discourtesy. The aid was rushed by the Gujarat Government to the Bihar Government, not as an act of ‘charity’, but as it is understood from one set of Indians to another, then in distress. But politics, unfortunately, has crept into the picture. Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) wants a larger share of the Muslim vote in his state and as a measure of ensuring it, the Chief Minister wants to keep his distance from the supposed communal ‘monster’, Narendra Modi.
On the part of the BJP, it probably thought that by reminding the Gujarat Government’s timely help. It could, at the very least, raise the morale of party workers. For the BJP-hating media, the spat between the JD(U) and the BJP-but more especially between Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi has come as manna from heaven. If Nitish Kumar had such contempt for Modi-and he is welcome to his feelings-why didn’t he resign from the Vajpayee Government when the Godhra riots took place in 2002, as a measure of solidarity with Muslims? And just as importantly, only a few days ago, why did he not declined BJP support to the JD(U) in the Rajya Sabha elections, when the BJP gave its six surplus votes to help win two seats? Wasn’t it ‘charity’ of sorts that was no secret?
Part of the Nitish Kumar problem is the role of the media had played for long. It has pleased the so-called ‘liberal’ media to demonise Modi day in and day out, for his alleged role in the 2002 riots. When the media is run by a GenNext corps of journalists with no knowledge of the past and even less of the Congress role in states like Bombay in the major riots in the 30s and 40s, we get into a situation where demonising of contemporary leaders makes it feel proud of upholding so-called ‘secular’ values.
The Nitish-Narendra spat, no doubt, will be forgotten in due course, as have similar and even worse incidents in by-gone years, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Yes, it may be argued, when the contents of the ‘offensive’ advertisement were being finalised, Nitish Kumar might have been informed as a matter of courtesy. But, one suspects, nobody dreamt that the Bihar Chief Minister would get so sore over it. But were Nitish Kumar informed and expressed his displeasure, what would have been the consequences? Would the BJP have tamely given in and found other ways to push its agenda through? If such is Nitish Kumar’s sense of pride, that he wouldn’t have anything to do with Modi, he should have, in the first place refused Ahmedabad’s offer of aid, in all possible ways. In the second place, she should have refused to touch Modi even with a barge pole. He should have made it clear to the BJP that while politics is politics, and in order to stay in power he would welcome BJP’s support, any public show of friendship towards Modi, even if his standing in the party is high, is totally No-No. That would have cleared the air.
The BJP obviously never had any clue of Nitish Kumar’s psyche and took him for granted. So our hypocritic Patna leader has got away with double-talk, to the media’s delight. It is clear that Nitish Kumar wants the best of all worlds and forget decency or ordinary courtesy. Incidentally, it is necessary, in current context, to know the meaning of ‘charity’. It is not alms given to a beggar. It is derived from the Latin word caritas. meaning ‘dearness’. The Compact Oxford Dictionary Theasaurus (page 138) defines the word to mean “affection, altruism, benevolence, humanity, caring, compassion, consideration, goodness, helpfulness, bountry, self-sacrifice, unselfishness and warm-heartedness” among other things.
Perhaps, in future, the Gujarat Government must keep away from charity and never say a word of whatever good it has done to anybody. Better still, show no “charity’ whatsoever, even if a few million fellow Indians die of starvation or other causes. Such help, for lack of foresight, conscious or unconscious, may push it to speak of the aid it has given to the embarrassment of the recipient. Nitish Kumar may have a point when he says that while doing charity is good, boasting about it is against Indian culture. So is lack of graciousness on the part of Nitish Kumar in a vain effort to win over a few Muslim votes. It is communalism at its worst, and does no credit to Bihar.