Speculations about the BJP-JD(U) alliance in Bihar suffering yet another split were put to rest on Thursday with Union Home Minister Amit Shah stating that the NDA will contest the assembly polls next year under the leadership of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Leaders of the JD(U), headed by Kumar, erupted in joy as snippets of an interview given to a news channel by Shah were beamed, capping weeks of bad blood between the two parties.
"The gathbandhan (coalition) is atal (unshakeable). The NDA will contest assembly polls under the leadership of Nitish Kumar in Bihar. Nationally, it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will continue to lead the coalition," Shah was shown as having said in the interview, to be telecast later in the day.
"An-ban (bickering) is a sign of a healthy coalition. But matbhed (difference of opinion) does not necessarily mean there is manbhed (mental rift)," Shah added.
The statement may also came as a disappointment to the opposition Grand Alliance which had been expecting a break-up among the alliance partners in view of the fact that Kumar has served as the chief minister for three consecutive terms and the BJP - under the aggressive leadership of Modi and Shah - is planning to expand its footprints in Bihar.
JD(U) national general secretary and state minister Shyam Rajak came out with a flurry of tweets thanking Shah.
"I wish to thank the top leadership of BJP @AmitShah1 @narendramodi for having dispelled many doubts by speaking about fighting the next assembly polls under the leadership of @NitishKumar. It is a slap on the face of the opposition which was enjoying (the recent bickering)," he said.
"Those wishing the disintegration of JD(U)-BJP alliance will disintegrate themselves since we have forged the coalition on an idea - that is to uplift 12 crore people of Bihar to which we have been devoted," Rajak added.
Disgruntled JD(U) leader Ajay Alok, who had, of late, become critical of his own party on a number of issues, also appeared sobered down as he tweeted, "Amit Shah's statement would make the NDA rock solid and disappoint those who had other expectations. Only Nitish Kumar has the capability to further strengthen the NDA. Jai Bihar!"
Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, whose LJP is a junior partner in the Bihar NDA, seemed to have heaved a sigh of relief as he remarked in Samastipur - where he is canvassing for his nephew Prince Raj before the by-election - "We always said there is no confusion over leadership in the NDA.
"Please go and ask the opposition what they have to say about this since all their hopes have hinged on the possibility of our disunity."
The NDA had made a clean sweep in Bihar in the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year, winning 39 out of 40 seats. The BJP and the LJP won 17 and six seats respectively, while the JD(U) succeeded in bagging 16 out of 17 that it had fought.
Among the opposition parties, only the Congress managed to win a seat while Lalu Prasad's RJD - which has ruled the state for over a decade and still has the highest number of MLAs - drew a blank.
Shortly after the NDA's spectacular victory in the polls, the opposition sensed an opportunity when Kumar decided against having a party representative in the Union cabinet.
Add to that, JD(U)'s opposition to the Narendra Modi government's ambitious legislations like the triple talaq bill and the one on reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir further fueled speculations of the party's growing unease with the BJP's ideological hard line.
RJD national vice-president Raghuvansh Prasad Singh had held out an olive branch to the JD(U) chief after the elections, urging him to return to the anti-BJP front which lacked a credible leadership.
Singh has, however, been snubbed on this account by Lalu Prasad's younger son and heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav, leaving the veteran leader sore. He said that he expects the 29-year-old to "realize the significance of what I am saying in six months".
Recently, outbursts of Union minister Giriraj Singh - known to share cold vibes with the Bihar Chief Minister over water-logging in Patna had also triggered a war of words between state-level leaders of the BJP and the JD(U).
Kumar had, however, made it clear in one of his speeches "there is nothing amiss in the coalition and those trying to create mischief will be in trouble".