Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's surprising silence over repeated criticism from his estranged colleague George Fernandes is part of a strategy to prevent any factionalism in the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U), reliable political sources say.
Upset over being sidelined in Bihar politics, Fernandes has stepped up attacks on the 10-month-old government of the JD-U and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), alleging that nothing has changed in the state.
Fernandes' bitterness follows his humiliating defeat in the JD-U elections in 2006 when Sharad Yadav was elected president.
Last week, the veteran socialist called Nitish Kumar and Yadav 'autocrats' over their working style, both within the party and in the government.
He is reportedly busy meeting dissidents in the party with a view to destabilising Nitish Kumar and Yadav.
Nitish Kumar has, however, refused to join the verbal duel. Party leaders said the chief minister does not want to add fuel to the fire.
They said Nitish Kumar has instructed party workers and leaders not to respond to Fernandes' outbursts.
"While Fernandes is blowing hot and cold, neither Sharad Yadav nor Nitish Kumar has responded to him. This is part of a strategy to counter him," said a senior party leader close to Nitish Kumar.
But Nitish Kumar and senior JD-U leaders admit they find Fernandes' criticism embarrassing.
Nitish Kumar and Yadav do not want to invite trouble for the party and the government by reacting to Fernandes, a JD-U leader said.
"There is a danger that criticism of Fernandes may give him an advantage and a few party leaders may defend him," the leader said.
According to party insiders, Bihar JD-U president Rajiv Ranjan alias Lallan Singh, considered close to Nitish Kumar, flayed Fernandes. But the move backfired.
JD-U legislator Chedi Paswan demanded action against Lallan Singh. This led to Paswan's suspension from the party.
Fernandes also enjoys the support of JD-U Rajya Sabha MP Digvijay Singh and jailed JD-U leader Anand Mohan Singh, both upper caste Rajputs. Many feel that over half a dozen party legislators may come out in Fernandes' support if any action was taken against him.
Fernandes, who camped in Bihar for a few days recently, met party dissidents at the residence of former JD-U MP Arun Kumar in Patna.
He has denied rumours that he would quit the JD-U. "I built this party from scratch and I have no intention of leaving it," he said.