Hinting at his party's unease with Nitish Kumar, LJP president Chirag Paswan said on Friday he will back the BJP if it opts for a change of face in the Bihar assembly polls as he underscored his dissatisfaction with the chief minister's handling of the migrant crisis, noting it "could have been better".
The BJP had declared Kumar, the JD(U) president, as the chief ministerial face of the ruling NDA in Bihar more than a year ago, but a section of leaders within the alliance have been expressing their reservation against his leadership.
In an interview, Paswan did not make any direct demand about a change of leadership but asserted that he will be with the BJP in whatever decision the saffron party takes.
"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," Paswan said.
His remarks are significant as it was presumed that the issue of the NDA's face in the Bihar polls, which are slated for October-November, had been settled after the then BJP president Amit Shah had declared in 2019 that Kumar will lead the alliance in the next assembly elections.
Shah's announcement had come as he was working to iron out differences among the NDA partners for the Lok Sabha elections in the state.
Asked about the Bihar government's handling of the migrant crisis triggered by the nationwide lockdown to curb COVID-19, Paswan, the Lok Sabha MP from Jamui, said it could have been better.
"If Bihar government had begun transporting migrants earlier, then we could have avoided the example of the likes of Jyoti Kumar. Deaths of many labourers on their way to home could have been probably avoided too," he said and also praised the Yogi Adityanath government of Uttar Pradesh in this regard.
Teenaged girl Jyoti Kumari shot into limelight after cycling over 1100 km from Gurgaon to Darbangha while carrying her father on pillion.
As the migrant crisis deepened, Paswan said he had urged Kumar to take quick steps to bring back people of the state, especially students stuck in Kota, from outside.
Though the chief minister gave him assurance but he was more keen to follow lockdown fully even as other states, including Uttar Pradesh, swung to transport their natives back.
"I will not say I am upset or angry. But there is always a scope for improvement. It appears to me that we could have done better. The way the UP CM started bringing back his state's people from outside from a very early period is an example," the LJP president said.
He was, however, all praise for Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led central government, saying there was not "even one per cent" of lack of efforts on its part.
Home Minister Shah, whose ministry has been key in coordinating lockdown measures, was always accessible and took the decision to allow the running of trains and buses to bring home migrants, Paswan said, adding that the relaxation came a day after he made a request to him.
Asked if there was anger among migrants from Bihar, who are now back in state, Paswan said it is natural after what they had gone through in the last few weeks.
"This we (NDA) will have to accept humbly. When you have high hopes from somebody, then you feel anguished if your expectations are not met. They have expressed their faith in the chief minister for 15 years," he said, noting that Kumar has been identified with good governance and his relief works when the state suffered from any natural tragedy earlier.
Paswan, however, asserted that the NDA will come back to power in Bihar with a huge mandate, and said the RJD-led opposition is not in a position to challenge it.
It will win more than 225 of 242 seats in the assembly, he claimed, noting that it had also won 39 of the state's 40 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.
The BJP, the JD(U) and the LJP are part of the NDA in the state and will be challenged by the alliance of the RJD and the Congress besides some smaller parties in the assembly polls.
In the 2015 assembly polls, the NDA had lost badly to the grand alliance of the RJD-JD(U)-Congress but Kumar broke ties with his allies in 2017 and entered the saffron alliance again after a gap of over four years.
The NDA is seen to have an edge over its rivals, who remain disjointed following their drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls, due to its wider social equation and a lack of strong alternative to Kumar, who has been at the helm since 2005 barring a little over nine-month gap in 2014-15 when Jitan Ram Manjhi ruled the state.