The Congress on Thursday sought to downplay reports of infighting within the opposition Grand Alliance in Bihar and instead claimed that it was the ruling NDA that ran the risk of disintegration in the run-up to the assembly polls in the state.
At a press conference, AICC in-charge of the state Shaktisinh Gohil also said the RJD, the largest constituent of the opposition coalition that comprises five parties including the Congress, was "justified" in projecting Tejashwi Yadav as its chief ministerial candidate, though he stopped short of lending support to the same.
"We fought Assembly polls in Punjab with Amarinder Singh as the party's face. There is no reason why any party should be denied the right to project its leader," Gohil, who had met Yadav over dinner the previous night, said.
The RJD's "unilateral" declaration of 30-year-old Yadav as its chief ministerial nominee has not gone down well with coalition partners, most notably former chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha founding president Jitan Ram Manjhi.
Manjhi, who is now said to be fancying his chances with the NDA, has been repeatedly attacking the RJD over its "domineering" ways and accusing it of ignoring his demand for a coordination committee with representation from all Grand Alliance partners.
Another ally, RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha has been of late maintaining a studied silence over the issue, though he had questioned Yadav's "inexperienced" leadership a number of times. Kushwaha had quit the NDA and joined the Grand Alliance, a development in which the Congress had played a crucial role.
However, Gohil sought to make light of the squabbles and remarked, "I had dinner with Tejashwi, will meet Manjhi over tea today. Kushwaha had called up to convey his regret that he was in Delhi and hence could not meet me here."
"He would look me up when I am in the national capital. So, in the Grand Alliance, 'sab changaa si' (all is well)".
The AICC spokesperson, however, evaded queries as to whether his party would back Tejashwi Yadav as the Grand Alliances' face, saying, "This is not the right time to ask these questions. We will make our stand clear when it is appropriate. Please do not force words into my mouth".
Polls for the 243-member Bihar Legislative Assembly has to take place before November-end.
Pointing to the notes of dissent emanating from Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP, an NDA partner, Gohil said, "Your worry should be about the BJP-led coalition."
Ram Vilas Paswan's son Chirag, who has taken over the mantle of the LJP chief, has been critical of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who heads the JD(U).
At a press conference in Delhi recently, Ram Vilas Paswan had cryptically remarked, "I am left with no say with regard to party matters. I have left it all to Chirag. We all will have to abide by any decision he takes".
Congress spokesperson Gohil, whose party shared power with the JD(U) for more than a year until Nitish Kumar quit the Grand Alliance and returned to the NDA, also said that he feared for the fate of the chief minister.
"The BJP is a ruthless ally which chops off the legs and heads of whoever it shares power with. The last example of its unbridled lust for power was in Maharashtra. There is no reason why it could not attempt something similar in Bihar," Gohil, who hails from Gujarat, quipped.
The Congress leader, however, differed with Tejashwi Yadav who had recently hinted that he was in favour of deferring assembly polls because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I am of the view that elections must be held in time. But, the Election Commission must come up with ways to ensure that voters' lives are not imperiled", he said.
He also seemed dissatisfied with the concept of virtual rallies and urged the poll panel "to look into the issue of a level-playing field for all parties in the fray.
"This new type of electioneering would help a party like BJP which has its coffers overflowing. But others are placed at a disadvantageous position," Gohil said.