The ruling Janata Dal (United) in Bihar on Saturday took strong exception to Chirag Paswan's veiled criticism of its national president and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, terming as "unfortunate" the remarks of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief whose party is a constituent of the NDA.
Paswan had earlier expressed dissatisfaction over the Bihar government's handling of the migrant crisis that arose during the lockdown. In reply to whether he would like to see Kumar, the chief minister for close to 15 years, being replaced, Paswan had cryptically said he was fine with "whatever decision the BJP takes".
JD(U) spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan Prasad sought to remind Paswan, a second-term MP who took over the mantle of his party less than a year ago, that Kumar was a "credible face for 120 million people of Bihar" and that his leadership of the NDA in the state had the approval of the LJP chief's father and the party's founding president Ram Vilas Paswan.
"There should not be any confusion in people's minds about the acceptability of Nitish Kumar. Nor should people make statements that may give rise to such confusion," said Prasad when asked about Paswan's remarks about politics in Bihar.
According to a report in the Hindustan Times, the BJP has snubbed Paswan's statement about supporting its decision where the chief minister is concerned, saying the elections will be fought under Kumar's leadership.
“Former national president and Union Home Minister Amit Shah had already made an announcement in this regard that Nitish Kumar will be the face of the NDA in Bihar. The BJP stands by it. Nitish Kumar will be our face and the forthcoming elections will be contested on the policies and achievements of both the Centre and the state,” said the BJP’s Bihar in-charge Bhupendra Yadav.
Earlier on Saturday, the LJP said it will fight the Assembly elections under Kumar's leadership and that it is not right to consider the party's views on shortcomings in the state government's working as an expression of displeasure or annoyance.
"Definitely, we will enter the Bihar poll arena under Nitish Kumar's leadership. We will go by whatever the BJP decides. All three parties are (NDA) allies in Bihar as well," said LJP Vice-President and Chief Spokesperson AK Bajpai.
A few weeks earlier, Chirag Paswan had criticised the state government for its refusal to allow return of migrants and students on the ground that it would defeat the purpose of the lockdown. "We are supporting the government in Bihar but not a part of it," he had said.
The JD(U) spokesperson voiced the party's displeasure, saying, "It is very unfortunate when a member of the coalition keeps making statements like these over a period of time."
Notably, both LJP and JD(U) happen to be splinter groups of the Janata Dal, which was floated by former Prime Minister VP Singh in the late 1980s. But ever since Kumar became chief minister in 2005, Paswan's party has suffered large-scale defections to the JD(U) on more than one occasion.
Things appeared to be amicably settled between the two parties when in 2017, following Kumar's sudden return to the NDA, Ram Vilas Paswan's younger brother Pashupati Kumar Paras was made a cabinet minister in the state.
However, with Paras getting elected to the Lok Sabha last year, the LJP is left with no representation in the state's council of ministers.
Although the BJP has so far refrained from commenting upon Chirag Paswan's repeated expressions of dissatisfaction with the regime in Bihar, it is expected to back the JD(U) chief in line with Union Home Minister Amit Shah's unequivocal assertions to the effect.
Shah had last year silenced Kumar's detractors within his own party by stating in a couple of TV interviews that the Chief Minister will lead the NDA charge when Bihar goes to polls. He reiterated the point at a rally he addressed in Vaishali district earlier this year to garner support for CAA-NPR-NRC.
All eyes are on Shah's virtual rally of Sunday whereby he is likely to sound the BJP's poll bugle for the assembly elections due in a few months.
(With inputs from agencies)