The NDA will contest next year's Bihar assembly elections under the leadership of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said on Monday - a comment seen as an effort to allay the tension between the two allies, simmering since the victory in the Lok Sabha elections.
"There is a lot of speculation (on BJP-JDU alliance), and I would like to inform the people of Bihar through this house that the NDA will contest the polls under the leadership of Nitish Kumar," Sushil Modi, who is also Nitish Kumar's deputy, said in the assembly.
Rebuffed in his attempt to snag more than one ministerial berth in the Narendra Modi government, Nitish Kumar had withdrawn entirely, refusing to be part of the Central government. But since then, the rift between the allies has been visible, with the Chief Minister veering from the BJP stance on multiple issues. On matters like the privatisation of railways, he has disagreed with the Central proposal and refused to end his opposition to the government's bill to criminalise Triple Talaq despite the BJP's request.
The most recent instance was a circular from the state police that sought information on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - the BJP's ideological mentor -- and its affiliates. While the Chief Minister initiated damage control measures immediately, the matter was raised in the legislative council by the BJP's Sanjay Mayukh, known to be close to party chief and Union minister Amit Shah.
All of this had triggered speculation about the future of the alliance - some even predicted an eventual understanding between Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal and the BJP to put Nitish Kumar in his place. The prolonged absences of Tejashwi Yadav from Patna had even triggered rumours that he was in Delhi trying to cut a deal with the BJP's central leaders.
"I'm announcing this so that there is no confusion... who will board a sinking ship," Sushil Modi said on Monday in what was seen as a revealing comment. "A boat that is full of holes, an alliance that managed to win only one seat - who will have any confidence in that?" he added, in a reference to the Grand Alliance under Tejashwi Yadav that had taken on the NDA.
The Deputy Chief Minister's words also tried to do away with another set of rumours that surfaced over the weekend. Nitish Kumar, while surveying the flood-affected areas, had visited the country home of RJD leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui in Darbhanga, triggering a possible Plan B in which he dumps the BJP and reboots the Mahagathbandhan.
Mr Kumar's JDU had contested the 2015 Bihar election in alliance with his arch rival Lalu Yadav's RJD, and defeated the BJP. Two years after forming the government, he had dumped Mr Yadav's party over corruption charges and got back with the BJP to form a new government.