Ahead of Amit Shah’s digital rally in Bihar on Sunday, widely seen as the launch of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA)’s poll campaign, a key ally’s comment on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar may spoil the show of unity. Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Chirag Paswan today made it clear he would support the BJP “whether it goes with Nitish Kumar’s leadership or changes its mind”.
Chirag Paswan, whose father Ram Vilas Paswan is a minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, also conveyed his dissatisfaction with the way Nitish Kumar handled the migrant crisis, saying it could have been better.
“Who will be the face, who will be the leader of the alliance is something that its largest constituent BJP has to decide. The LJP is strongly with the BJP in whatever decision it takes. If they (BJP) want to go ahead with Nitish Kumar ji, we are with them, if they want to have a change of mind… whatever decision the BJP takes, we will support,” Mr Paswan told Press Trust of India in an interview.
At the same time, he asserted that the NDA would come back to power in Bihar with a huge mandate, winning more than 225 of 242 seats in the assembly.
The BJP has declared Nitish Kumar the chief ministerial face of the ruling NDA for the Bihar election, due later this year, and amid speculation about a rift over the migrant crisis and the coronavirus lockdown, Home Minister Amit Shah is expected to reiterate it in his online rally.
Reacting to the LJP leader’s comments, Bihar BJP leaders said the party is not in a position to reconsider its decision on Nitish Kumar’s leadership, but they admit the Bihar Chief Minister’s image has taken a beating over his flip-flop on the handling of the migrants’ issue. Sources in the Bihar BJP say they feel Mr Kumar made a mistake by urging the centre to stop the “Shramik” trains.
Mr Paswan has made his point. He apparently wants to deal with the BJP rather than Nitish Kumar, when it comes to the allocation of seats for the Bihar contest.
Last year, Amit Shah had sought to put a lid on talk of a feud between the BJP and Nitish Kumar by declaring that he would lead the alliance in the assembly elections. The announcement helped the allies iron out their differences just before the national election in April-May, in which they scored a landslide in Bihar.
The BJP now has another restless Bihar ally to tackle.
Mr Paswan said in the interview that the Bihar government’s handling of migrants stranded by the virus lockdown fell short and praised the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government of Uttar Pradesh.
“If the Bihar government had begun transporting migrants earlier, then we could have the example of the likes of Jyoti Kumari. Deaths of many labourers on their way to home could have been probably avoided,” he said, a reference to Nitish Kumar’s early reluctance to allow migrants back into the state.
Jyoti Kumari, a teenager, cycled over 1,100 km from Gurgaon to Darbhanga in Bihar with her wounded father riding pillion.
Mr Paswan said there was anger among lakhs of migrants who had returned to Bihar from different parts of the country.