The ruling BJP, steeped in ally trouble, has been served an ultimatum by key Bihar ally Chirag Paswan just weeks before the October-November state election.
Chirag Paswan, whose father Ram Vilas Paswan is a minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, reportedly met BJP president JP Nadda yesterday and demanded a decision on seat-sharing at the earliest.
If not, Paswan junior has reportedly told Mr Nadda, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) will field candidates in 143 of Bihar's 243 seats.
Sources say Chirag Paswan has also made it clear that he will not hesitate to put up candidates against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United (JDU). He reportedly reminded the BJP chief that recently, the JDU said it had no alliance with the LJP. "So LJP can field candidates against JDU candidates," he said, according to sources.
Chirag Paswan's warning intensifies the NDA vs NDA scenario in these polls after days of seat-sharing talks failed to yield results.
Bihar will vote on October 28, November 3 and 7 for a new government and the results will be announced on November 10.
The BJP's relationship status with the Paswans has been complicated over the past few months because of a feud between Nitish Kumar and Chirag Paswan.
The Chief Minister, who has been under attack from the opposition over a range of issues including the coronavirus fight and the migrant jobs crisis, has not been spared by the Paswans' party, technically his allies in the NDA or National Democratic Alliance.
In May, Chirag Paswan had commented that he would support the BJP "whether it goes with Nitish Kumar's leadership or changes its mind". Since then, his attacks on the Chief Minister have been open and progressively sharper. Now LJP leaders are also openly pitching for Chirag Paswan for chief minister though Nitish Kumar has already been endorsed by PM Modi as well as Union Home Minister Amit Shah. "He is definitely the Chief Ministerial candidate of our party, there is no doubt about it," Shahnawaz Ahmad Kaifi, LJP national general secretary, told news agency ANI.
Nitish Kumar's move to bring rival-turned-ally Jitan Ram Manjhi to the NDA has fueled more anger in the Paswan camp, which has a similar vote-bank.
Adding insult to injury, Nitish Kumar recently unveiled his "Seven Nischay (seven resolves) part 2", doubling down after Chirag Paswan's complaint about the Chief Minister working on the agenda of his previous alliance with the RJD and the Congress despite switching alliances.
If the Paswans do decide to quit the BJP-led coalition, they will be the third allies to do so. The BJP recently lost one of its oldest partners, the Akali Dal, over the farm laws. Another long-time ally, Shiv Sena, had split with the BJP last year over power-sharing in Maharashtra.
Sources say BJP leaders in Bihar believe even if Chirag Paswan walks out of the alliance, the NDA will ultimately consolidate the Mahadalit votes that are outside the LJP's core Dalit vote-bank.