Prime Minister Narendra Modi today endorsed Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as the face of NDA in Bihar ahead of the coming state elections, saying he "played a big role for a new India and a new Bihar".
"Bihar was behind in terms of development for many years -- politics, cash crunch were some of the reasons," PM Modi said.
"There was a time when road connectivity, internet connectivity were not discussed. Being a landlocked state, Bihar faced many challenges... Nitish Kumar has played a big role in our aim towards a New India, New Bihar," he added.
PM Modi's endorsement comes on the heels of a recent internal strife within the NDA, with a section averse to Mr Kumar's continuance as the Chief Minister and the face of the NDA. While many within the BJP have been free with critical comments about him over the last month, ally Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party considered contesting against the Chief Minister's Janata Dal United.
Both parties were sparring over the last few months on a host of issues, including Mr Kumar's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the farmers' crisis and the job situation. In July, the LJP sided with the opposition to allege that there was no initiative on part of the Chief Minister to investigate the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, a "promising young man" from the state.
Earlier this week, while Mr Kumar launched his election campaign, the LJP held a meeting to discuss whether they should go with or against the JDU in the upcoming polls. The leaders had finally left the decision to Mr Paswan, whose son Chirag Paswan has admitted to having aspirations for the state's top post at an internal meeting of the party.
A section of the BJP also claimed that their internal survey suggests a huge anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar and wanted the NDA to contest the polls in the name of PM Modi.
But the idea was dropped after senior BJP leaders pointed out that they contested with PM Modi as the face of the NDA in 2015. “Everyone knows the outcome of that,” they had said. Subsequently, the LJP fell in line and the dissent within the BJP also subsided.
Today, PM Modi made it clear that Mr Kumar has the Centre's backing and the key battle is for the development of Bihar.
"We are advancing the development of every sector of Bihar, trying to solve the problems of each sector so that Bihar can take a new flight of development… as high as the state can fly," he said.
Once an arch-rival of PM Modi, Mr Kumar had ended the alliance with the BJP in 2013 when the then Chief Minister of Gujarat was named the Prime Ministerial candidate of the NDA. In the run-up to the 2015 state elections, the two were engaged in a bitter political tussle.
But the five-time Chief Minister, who is seeking re-election, returned to the BJP fold in July 2017 after ending the Grand Alliance with the Congress and Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal.