- Upendra Kushwaha said no one knows Nitish Kumar better than him
- Mr Kumar wants to step down, Mr Kushwaha claimed
- Last week, Mr Kushwaha met opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav
The top post in Bihar could soon have a vacancy, Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha declared on Wednesday. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, he claimed, has reached a "saturation point in power and he wants to step down". There was also a disclaimer. The comment does not mean that he is asking for the resignation of the 67-year-old Chief Minister -- no one can force him to exit against his wishes, said Mr Kushwaha, whose party RLSP is part of the BJP-led alliance.
Addressing his party's youth workers in Patna, Mr Kushwaha insisted that "no one knows Nitish Kumar better than him" and during a chat, he had shared that after 15 years in power, he was inclined to move on.
Mr Kumar or his party are yet to comment on the startling claim that caps a series of jibes from the Union Minister. Though both leaders are BJP allies in Bihar, their relationship reached a low as it became clear that Nitish Kumar would get as many seats as the BJP - at the cost of smaller allies like Mr Kushwaha.
Last month, Mr Kushwaha said a leader in Bihar NDA did not want Narendra Modi to head the government for another term. While he refused to name anyone, the comment was seen as a heavy hint about Mr Kumar, who parted company with the BJP in 2013 over its decision to pitch Mr Modi, then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, as the NDA's Prime Ministerial candidate.
The leaders of Mr Kumar's party have long been anticipating a walkout by Mr Kushwaha. Instead, he has reiterated his allegiance to PM Modi.
But last week, after BJP chief Amit Shah's announcement of going equal share with Nitish Kumar, Upendra Kushwaha met with opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav, the son of Lalu Yadav. Earlier on Wednesday, he met Ram Vilas Paswan, adding fuel to speculation that NDA allies are upset about the Nitish Kumar-BJP deal. Mr Paswan's party wanted seven seats.
Under the new seat sharing formula, Nitish Kumar, who had been holding out for as many seats as the BJP, will get his wish. The allies who would have to tighten their belts will be Mr Kushwaha and Mr Paswan, who would lose one seat each.
This is seen to have riled Mr Kushwaha, whose party also won more seats than Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United in 2014. While JDU won only two seats, Mr Kushwaha's party had won three. Mr Kushwaha is understood to have been offered only two seats this time.