A day after he resigned as Bihar chief minister owning responsibility for his party's humiliating two-seat show in the Lok Sabha polls, Nitish Kumar's return to the helm appeared to have run into resistance from party president Sharad Yadav.
An indication to this effect came from JD-U national general secretary KC Tyagi -- a close associate of Yadav -- just hours before a JD-U legislature party meeting slated for 4 pm, ostensibly to get Kumar re-elected as leader of the JD-U legislature party.
"We are in talks with (RJD chief) Lalu Prasad for the formation of an alternative government. He does not want Nitish Kumar back as CM," a TV report quoted Tyagi as saying.
But speaking to reporters on Sunday, Lalu described the report of joining forces with the JD-U as concocted and baseless. "Who becomes the JD-U leader is an internal matter of the party," he said.
Informed sources attributed Lalu's denial as a measure of caution in the wake of uncertainty caused by infighting within the JD-U, with party MLAs split into pro and anti-Nitish camps.
A cryptic statement by Sharad Yadav appeared to suggest Nitish Kumar's exit was linked to his June, 2013 decision to break away from the NDA, after Narendra Modi's elevation as BJP campaign chief.
"Nitish's resignation is the next step in continuation with the decision to part ways with the NDA," Sharad Yadav told reporters. Efforts for an alternative government were part of efforts "to save the Constitution", he added.
The JD-U president, like Lalu, took a more cautious subsequent stand.
"Any decision on the JD-U LP leader would be taken at its meeting," he said on Sunday.
Sources said JD-U MLAs were split down the middle over a possible Nitish re-election as legislature party leader, to enable him to return as CM
"Most party MLAs favour Nitish's return as CM," said water resources minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary, a close associate of Nitish Kumar.
Sharad supporters, however, indicated he wanted Bihar law minister Narendra Narayan Yadav to head the new government.
The Nitish Kumar camp, however, got a boost after agricultural minister Narendra Singh, seen as a rival claimant to the CM's post, told reporters on Sunday he wanted Nitish back as chief minister.
"There is no question of me forming an alternative government with the support of the BJP," Singh said, seeking to quash suggestions he was in touch with the BJP leadership.
There were demonstrations by JD-U activists in many parts of Bihar, demanding Nitish's return as CM. Sharad had to face protests from Nitish supporters when he reached Patna Sunday afternoon, ahead of the JD-U LP meeting.
Whoever is elected as the JD-U LP leader on Sunday, he would have his task cut out in securing a trust vote in the Bihar assembly where the party's strength is open to question.
The JD-U legislature party has a clear strength on date of 113, including the Speaker.
In addition, one newly-elected JD-U member is yet to take oath as MLA, three women MLAs are under suspension for anti-party activity and a fourth one rebelled against the party to contest the Lok Sabha poll as an independent.
The 243-member Bihar assembly has an effective strength on date of 236. The Mohania and Obra assembly seats are vacant and five persons elected in by-elections accompanying the Lok Sabha poll, are yet to take oath as MLAs.
The figure comprises three RJD members, one JD-U member and one BJP member.
The BJP has 89 members (with one awaiting oath as MLA), RJD has eight MLAs (with three awaiting oath as MLA), 12 RJD members have been declared a separate block by the speaker on February 24.
The 13th member of this block, Kochadhaman MLA Akhtarul Iman resigned his seat and by-election for the seat has already been held.
Besides, there are four Congress MLAs in the House, five independent MLAs, one CPI MLA and an LJP MLA who had recently pledged allegiance to the JD-U.