When Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar executed his political somersault and landed himself in the NDA last July, Janata Dal United leaders knew they had to watch their back when they confront the tricky issue of dividing seats for the 2019 general elections. So when the BJP delivered a quick rejoinder this month to calls to project Nitish Kumar as the face of the NDA in Bihar, JDU leaders weren't really surprised - till union minister Giriraj Singh and BJP general secretary Rajendra Singh waded into the debate.
The two BJP leaders telegraphed that Nitish Kumar isn't indispensable and the BJP-led alliance minus JDU is ready to contest Bihar's 40 Lok Sabha seats on its own, and repeat its 2014 performance when they ended up with 29.
A senior JDU leader said statements like these confirmed lingering suspicions that the BJP was working hard to push Chief Minister Nitish Kumar into a corner to provoke him to exit the NDA. "Our sense is that the BJP prefers a triangular contest in Bihar," he said.
JDU leaders talk about how the BJP leadership had lost no opportunity to slight Mr Kumar. Like when BJP president Amit Shah reached out to upset alliance partners Shiv Sena's Uddhav Thackeray and Akali Dal's Parkash Singh Badal.
Mr Shah did meet his party's other two, smaller, alliance partners, Ram Vilas Paswan and Upendra Kushwaha. It was after these meetings with Amit Shah that Upendra Kushwaha ran down Nitish Kumar, describing him as someone who doesn't have a base of his own.
Nitish Kumar's party leaders think the statement appeared to echo BJP boss Amit Shah's mind.
Mr Shah will be in the Bihar capital Patna on July 11 on a visit that the JDU expects would indicate the future of the BJP-JDU alliance that some suggest, is already at a crossroads.
Party leaders say the JDU certainly isn't sitting on its hands. A few days before Mr Shah reaches Patna, the JDU intends to fly its leaders to its national executive meeting in the national capital from where it will be sending out some messages of its own.
The JDU decision to hold the meeting to deliberate on "current political issues and its strategy for the 2019 elections" in Delhi, not Patna, is seen as an effort to ensure its critique of the political situation is heard across the spectrum.
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