New delhi: In an apparent attempt to keep his options open, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has spoken to his Andhra Pradesh counterpart N. Chandrababu Naidu, who is spearheading the move to unite the Opposition parties against BJP-led alliance National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for the 2019 general elections. This has happened despite the fact that Nitish Kumar’s party, Janata Dal-United (JDU) is already holding discussions with the BJP for seat-sharing in the state. The discussions are said to be at an advanced stage.

Sources said that Kumar had a long telephonic chat with Naidu recently. Though what transpired between the two could not be ascertained, a JDU source said Kumar was exploring options at the last moment for a respectable space in the Opposition front, in the wake of an internal feedback that aligning with NDA may not be fruitful in the coming elections.

While JDU’s general secretary K.C. Tyagi could not be contacted, JDU spokesperson Neeraj Kumar, MLC, said: “I have no information about Nitishji speaking to Chandrababu Naidu. However, I can say that NDA is very much intact in Bihar. We are working for ‘Saat Nischay’, the seven commitments for welfare programmes, which we had promised to the people in  the last Assembly elections. The NDA has adopted it. There is also no problem as far as the leadership issue is concerned.”

However, sources in Hyderabad said Naidu was in touch with many NDA leaders, including Nitish Kumar, in his bid to form an anti-BJP front for the next Lok Sabha elections. “He is talking to leaders who can join the front before the elections. However, he is also exploring possibilities of getting support from those who can join the front after the elections. However, a clear picture will emerge only after the 11 December Assembly elections results,” said a source.

Naidu is planning to organise a meeting of non-BJP leaders in New Delhi on 10 December, a day before Parliament’s winter session begins. By the time, the Assembly elections in the five states would be over. Earlier, this meeting was planned for 22 November, but was deferred because of these elections. Naidu had held an 80-minute meeting with Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on the issue of proposed ant-BJP coalition.

As for Bihar, it is to be noted that with Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) all set to desert the NDA, the BJP-led alliance has almost worked out a seat-sharing deal with the remaining partners in the state. As per the deal, JDU and BJP are likely to get 17 seats each, while Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) will get six. There are 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar.

“Nitish Kumar wants to wait till 11 December when results of the Assembly elections in five states will be declared. Depending upon the outcome, he may like to rethink on his continuance in the NDA. In case BJP fares well in the state elections, he may go with the BJP but in case of adverse results, he may look for some reason to sever ties with the BJP,” said the source.

Another source, however, said Kumar did not have any options but to continue with the NDA. “His credibility has already been dented heavily, ever since he severed ties with the Mahagathbandhan. The RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) is now virtually under the command of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s son Tejashwi. Tejashwi is in no mood to take Nitish back in the Opposition fold in Bihar. It is because of this reason, Nitish will have no option but to stay with the NDA,” said the source.

He claimed that ever since he formed the government with BJP last year, Nitish has completely lost the Muslim voters’ support. “That was not the case in his earlier association with BJP, when a considerable section of the Muslim community had supported him despite his alliance with the BJP. But now, the entire Muslim vote bank has shifted to the RJD-Congress combine,” he sought to explain.

It is also believed that Kumar’s fresh posturing could also be a “pressure tactics” to force the BJP to give more seats. “As of now, both JDU and BJP are getting an equal number of seats. He would like to get more seats so that the JDU continues to remain the ‘big brother’ in Bihar,” the source added.

On the other hand, a source in the BJP said that though the party is talking seat-sharing with JDU, a big cross-section of state leaders believes that BJP should sever its ties with JDU, as Kumar is gradually becoming unpopular. “JDU has become a liability and therefore we should get rid of it and contest the coming LS elections only with the LJP,” claimed the BJP source.

With inputs from S. Rama Krishna in Hyderabad.