Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United on Sunday made it clear that it will not join the Union council of ministers again, but rebuffed speculations of a rift with ally Bharatiya Janata Party asserting 'all is well'.
JD-U national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan, who addressed a press conference in Patna, however, dismissed queries about Kumar's absence at the NITI Aayog meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the terse remark 'you should ask the chief minister'.
While there has been no official word on the reason behind Kumar's absence, sources close to the chief minister said he has excused himself citing post-COVID debility.
The septuagenarian, who had tested positive on July 25, interestingly, attended a function in Patna, organised on the occasion of National Handloom Day, where he shared the dais with his cabinet colleagues, including senior BJP leaders Syed Shahnawaz Hussain and Tarkishore Prasad.
Lalan, who was regarded as a frontrunner by some for a ministerial berth from the JD-U after R C P Singh's resignation, clarified that the party wasn't willing to have any representative in the Union Council of ministers.
"We had decided in 2019, after the Lok Sabha polls, not to join the government at the Centre. We stick to that stand even now," he said.
"The decision not to join the Union government was taken by our leader Nitish Kumar who was then also the party's national president," said Lalan.
When pointed out that R C P became a minister in 2021, he shot back, "You should ask him (RCP) who was the national president at that time. He did not take anybody in the loop while arriving at the decision."
Lalan also sought to make light of the exit, from the party, of R C P Singh, who resigned from the Union cabinet recently after being denied another Rajya Sabha term.
"He may have left the party only yesterday. But for long his body was in the party while his soul was elsewhere," Lalan said, without elaborating.
The JD-U national president, however, advised RCP, his predecessor, to 'apply himself to wherever his heart, mind and soul lie, without engaging in diatribe against Nitish Kumar'.
"Nitish Kumar is the maalik (boss) of the JD-U. People like RCP or I get elected as the national president because of his benediction. But we must remember that we are just caretakers," said Lalan.
R C P Singh quit the JD-U on Saturday, hours after reports surfaced that the party sought an explanation from him over allegations of corruption levelled by some unidentified workers.
Lalan, who is a Lok Sabha member, also said that he had no idea of the agenda of a meeting of party MPs called by the chief minister in the evening, saying, "I am coming here straight from the airport."
He, however, asserted that the party's ties with the BJP were not under stress and cited the JD-U's support for National Democratic Alliance candidates in the recent elections for President and Vice President as proof.
"Our former state president and Rajya Sabha MP Basishtha Narayan Singh voted by reaching the polling centre in a wheelchair. There cannot be a stronger demonstration of our commitment to the BJP-led NDA," said the JD-U chief.