- Ram Vilas Paswan is gunning for more seats in Bihar Assembly elections
- Nitish Kumar will continue unless BJP brings different Captain: Mr Paswan
- Last week, some BJP leaders claimed party might project different leader
Assembly elections in Bihar more than a year away, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is facing pressure from allies like Lok Janashakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan. The moves give an appearance of a proxy war between Mr Kumar and the BJP - a recurrence of a rift that had appeared ahead of the recent Lok Sabha election as well.
In an interview with the English language daily The Hindu, Mr Paswan said, "Nitish Kumar is our Captain and he will continue unless if the BJP decides to bring in a different Captain."
Mr Paswan, whose party won all six seats he contested in the recent Lok Sabha election, is gunning for more seats in the assembly. Currently he has just two MLAs, compared to 52 of the BJP and 67 of Nitish Kumar's party.
The controversy triggered by Mr Paswan follows the BJP state leaders' move to put a question mark on Mr Kumar being retained as the coalition's face.
Last week, a section of BJP leaders claimed that their party might project a different leader as the face of the coalition this time. But their move was deftly deflected by Sushil Modi, who is also Nitish Kumar's deputy in the government.
The face-off over seats in the Lok Sabha polls had ended with Mr Kumar carrying through his point of a 50-50 division. BJP chief Amit Shah had flown down to Patna to meet the Chief Minister and iron out a deal. That time, Mr Paswan had got only six of the state's 40 seats and a Rajya Sabha seat for himself.
The strategy had worked out for the BJP. With Mr Kumar - the state's tallest leader, dubbed "Sushashan babu" (Mr Good Governance) - on their side, the coalition had won 39 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats, a record in the parliamentary history.
In a related development, Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal has increased the attack on Nitish Kumar. On Saturday, senior RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said back channel talks were on with the JDU, but it was denied by the leaders of both parties.
The JDU's national spokesman KC Tyagi has said there's no question or going back with the party of Lalu Yadav. Mr Yadav is in jail, a court finding him guilty in several corruption cases.
Despite a huge build-up and a tough campaign, the RJD, the largest party in the Bihar assembly with 80 seats, failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat.
A section of RJD leaders privately admit that the aggression of Lalu Yadav's son Tejashwi Yadav towards Nitish Kumar had gone against the party.
But they say this time, it is likely to give the BJP a upper hand in the seat-sharing exercise.
The RJD sources also said the way Tejaswi Yadav always singles out Nitish Kumar, without saying much against Prime Minister Narendra Nodi And Union Minister Amit Shah, only reinforces the impression that there's an unwritten deal between him and the BJP. The junior Yadav has been named in several corruption cases, but so far has not been arrested or jailed.