Lok Janshakti Party's Chirag Paswan has decided to take his efforts to unseat Nitish Kumar to the hustings, over-riding the technicality of both parties being part of the NDA. At a meeting in Delhi on Sunday, the LJP decided to field candidates against Mr Kumar's ruling Janata Dal United. No candidates will be fielded against the BJP and "all the candidates who win will form a BJP-LJP government", the party said after the meeting.
Rajiv Ranjan, spokesperson of the Janata Dal United, said as long as the BJP-Nitish Kumar alliance remains intact, "we don't have any confusion about getting a thumping majority". A section of NDA leaders suggested that Chirag Paswan's move - keeping Nitish Kumar as a target for months - could not have happened without the tacit support of top BJP leadership.
The LJP had demanded an early decision on seats division, making it clear that it would contest against JD(U) unless given a fair share of seats. But the BJP's tardiness over the issue that gave rise to suspicion. There was no speeding up the process despite the LJP's ultimatum on the issue at a meeting with BJP chief JP Nadda last week.
In its official statement, the LJP has cited state-level "ideological differences" as the reason for the shift. "However, we have a strong alliance with the BJP and even in Bihar, we want to continue this collaboration. There is no sourness in our relations," the party said.
The LJP's decision comes at the end of months-long sparring with the JD(U) over a number of issues, including the state's handling of the coronavirus crisis and Mr Kumar's joining forces with former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, a Dalit leader like the Paswans with an overlapping support base. Within the party, Chirag Paswan has not been shy about expressing his ambitions for the top job.
Earlier on Sunday, sources said under the seat sharing arrangement, the JDU will get 122 of the 243 seats, while the BJP will have 121. The BJP is expected to provide for seats for the Lok Janshakti Party from its share, but there has been little clarity on the seat share with LJP.
For the LJP, a similar strategy had worked in 2005, when the party had played a pivotal role in stopping Lalu Yadav's RJD from winning yet another term in government. The LJP, a Congress-RJD ally at the time, had contested polls against Mr Yadav's party only, which resulted in a hung assembly. In subsequent polls, Mr Kumar got enough seats to form his maiden government.
The LJP's decision comes at a time when party chief Ram Vilas Paswan is ailing and had a heart surgery. Sources said Chirag Paswan felt hurt when Nitish Kumar never inquired about his father's health, which senior BJP leaders like Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi did.