The controversy over a newspaper advertisement featuring Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi deepened with the state police carrying out searches at the office of an ad agency in Patna on Sunday.
Search operations were conducted on the premises of the ad agency, Expression, and police seized the PDF files and e-mails received by it in connection with the advertisement, official sources said.
In a clear snub to its coalition partner, Kumar, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party's ally Janata Dal (United), had on Saturday cancelled a dinner for the top brass of the BJP --- gathered in Patna for the party's national executive -- in disapproval of an advertisement featuring him with Modi and another on Gujarat's aid during Bihar floods two years ago.
The authorities swung into action after the chief minister's Secretary Chanchal Prasad wrote to Senior Superintendent of Police Amit Jain, asking him to go into the matter, hours after Kumar threatened to take "all possible legal action" against those responsible for the advertisement.
Official sources said that the money for the advertisements were paid in cash in Surat and efforts were on to verify who had paid it.
The sources said BJP MP from Surat C R Patil had contacted one of the owners of the advertisement agency in connection with the advertisements. The e-mails were sent by people from Bihar settled in Gujarat, they said.
The development has come on a day when the BJP is launching its campaign for the assembly elections in Bihar at a Rashtriya Swabhiman (national pride) rally on Sunday evening, which is also being addressed by Modi.
The JD (U) leader, who has an eye on Muslim votes, has fashioned himself as a secular leader and in the past had avoided sharing any dais with Modi in Bihar.
The actions of Kumar have brought strains in the JD(U)-BJP relationship and a section of the party feels that it could even lead to parting of ways.
Modi has so far not reacted to Kumar's actions and comments despite several attempts to contact him, though party sources said that he has expressed his ire to his senior party colleagues.
But the Gujarat government has come out with full-page advertisements today also, projecting all-round development in the state that is considered as BJP's 'Hindutva' laboratory.
The Nitish-Modi advertisement that appeared in local dailies yesterday led to cracks between the two old allies, with the JD(U) leader making strong statements.
"I have no knowledge about the agency advertising my photograph along with Modi as published in newspapers today. Nor was my office consulted... I will explore and take all possible legal action against those responsible for this unethical and illegal act," Kumar had said.
Kumar, who heads the JD(U)-BJP coalition government in Bihar, has kept Modi at an arm's length with the aim to wooing Muslim votes in his state.
He had specifically asked the BJP not to use Modi, who has faced flak over the post-Godhra riots of 2002, in its campaign in the state during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.Kumar said the advertisements had "caused a great embarrassment" for him but asserted that such developments will not impact the alliance between the JD(U) and the BJP.