In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, the game of political one-upmanship between Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad is intensifying by the day.
It became evident when Nitish Kumar outsmarted his arch-rival Lalu Prasad by poaching in 13 RJD MLAs, who formed a separate group in the state assembly on Monday.
However, the ruling party's gambit to win over 13 MLAs of the RJD seems to have failed with the return of nine MLAs to the party fold, hours after the speaker hurriedly recognised the breakaway group. On Tuesday, they attended the legislature party meeting in the presence of Lalu Prasad.
Now, the danger of disqualification of memberships hangs over the remaining four MLAs. But if they manage to stay as a separate group, they would be extending outside support to the ruling JD (U), which is critically placed in the Bihar assembly.
The present strength of the 243-member Bihar assembly is 241, as a JD (U) MLA died recently while former social justice minister Parveen Amanullah quit to join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
With 116 MLAs of its own and support of four Independents and one CPI, the JD (U) has the support of 121 MLAs, the exact number required to remain in power.
The four-member Congress is also extending support to the Nitish Kumar government from outside after the NDA split.
So, the ruling JD (U) desperately needed the support of more MLAs to save the government and the 22-member RJD was the only soft target.
The 91-member BJP is strong enough to withstand any poaching attempt by the JD (U) or any other party.
Though four BJP legislators including Vijay Kumar Mishra, Avaneesh Kumar Singh, Rana Ganeshwar Singh and Amarnath Gami are rebels and openly sided with Nitish Kumar, it would not be possible to split the BJP legislature party, as it would require the support of at least 61 MLAs.
The JD(U) leadership had earlier caused a split in the three-member LJP Legislature Party when two of its MLAs, including Bhabua MLA Pramod Kumar Singh and Thakurganj MLA Naushad Alam, had joined the ruling party nearly a year after the state assembly elections in 2011.
Almost simultaneously, the lone Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) MLA from Chakai assembly constituency, Sumit Kumar Singh, had merged with JD (U). Sumit is son of Narendra Singh, agriculture minister in the Nitish Kumar government.
Now, the four-member Congress legislature party could be the soft target of the ruling party. To split the Congress MLAs, the support of at least three MLAs will be required. Already, two Congress MLAs are considered to be close to the JD (U) leadership.
Last year, Nitish Kumar had attended the wedding of Tausif Alam, the Congress MLA from Bahadurganj about a month before the NDA split, fuelling speculations about the MLA's intentions.
Similarly, a senior Congress MLA, who is interested in contesting the Lok Sabha polls from Bhagalpur, may join the JD (U), as his parliamentary seat might go to the RJD in case of an alliance between the Congress and the RJD.
Though the development has triggered a blame-game between the two Bihar leaders, the JD (U) is not averse to poaching in legislators from other parties.
"Some MLAs from other political parties are also in regular touch with us," said state JD (U) president Bashishtha Narayan Singh.