Newly-anointed BJP prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi faces the challenge of quelling the drift of party MLAs towards arch-rival Nitish Kumar in Bihar, a state that sends 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
A day after his party formally declared Modi's candidature for the top post, four sitting BJP MLAs questioned the announcement on grounds of both, propriety and timing.
"This signifies the rise of a dictator," said Amarnath Gami, sitting BJP MLA from Hayaghat in Darbhanga district of north Bihar, now under suspension for his critical references to BJP legislature party leader Sushil Modi.
"The BJP's soul died yesterday," Gami said, expressing his anguish at the way party 'patriarch' LK Advani's views were bypassed in declaring Modi's elevation.
This, he said, was his "frank opinion" about the way things had evolved in the BJP. "If they want to expel me from the party, they are free to do so," said Gami, whose family is known for its long association with the RSS.
Fifth term BJP MLA Avanish Kumar Singh said the manner of Modi's rise showed the RSS/BJP canon of party being bigger than the individual was a thing of the past. "Now, the individual is bigger than the party," he argued.
Singh questioned the rationale of the BJP announcing its PM nominee when the Lok Sabha poll had yet to be announced. "This is undemocratic. You've taken away the MPs' right to choose their leader," said the MLA from Chiriya in East Champaran (north Bihar).
Singh was categorical he would contest the next Lok Sabha poll from the East Champaran constituency, represented at present by his BJP colleague Radha Mohan Singh, "irrespective of whether or not BJP gives me ticket".
The Chiriya MLA, whose recent meeting with Nitish Kumar had tongues wagging about his future course of action, also provided a clue on this score. "Nitishji has promised me his full support and cooperation," he said.
Third term BJP MLA from Jale, Vijay Kumar Mishra, too, was vocal in criticizing Modi's elevation. "Modi pressurized the party in getting his candidature announced," he claimed.
"I think the people of Bihar still swear by Nitish Kumar, who raised the image of the state across the country by improving its law and order and roads," Mishra went on to add, indicating the way he was set to go.
Rana Gangeshwar Singh, the BJP MLA from Mohiuddinnager in Samastipur (north Bihar), said he concurred with Advani's perceived opinion that the announcement of the BJP's PM nominee should have been deferred till after the assembly poll in five states.
"How will Modi look if the BJP fares poorly in the assembly elections?" Rana wondered. "I am all for Nitish Kumar. He's the best and Bihar needs him," he concluded.
Reached for a reaction, Bihar BJP chief Mangal Pandey said the Bihar unit of the BJP was unanimous in its support from Narendra Modi. "For every four BJP MLAs that the JD (U) takes away, we'll take eight of their MLAs", an upbeat Pandey told HT on Saturday.
"Since the June 16 BJP-JD (U) split over Narendra Modi, MLAs and MPs on both sides of the divide are looking to their best advantage. Loyalties are bound to change in the coming days", said a top BJP leader.
In this context, he recalled sitting JD (U) Lok Sabha MPs, Jainarain Nishad (Muzaffarpur) and Purnmasi Ram (Gopalganj) had met Modi confidant, Rajya Sabha MP Parshottam Rupala, at the latter's New Delhi residence.
The JD (U) has 20 Lok Sabha MPs from Bihar to the BJP's 12. The RJD's four MPs, Congress' two and two independents complete the state's total of 40. In the 243-member Bihar assembly, the JD (U) has 118 MLAs (including the Speaker) and is backed by four independents and three Congress MLAs. This makes for a wafer thin majority figure of 125.
The biggest opposition party, the BJP (part of the Nitish-headed coalition regime till the June 16 split over Modi) has a total of 91 MLAs, followed by the Lalu Prasad-led RJD's 32 MLAs.