In a significant political twist ahead of the upcoming assembly elections, the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U) in Bihar, headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar, on Wednesday expelled two of its top leaders, Prashant Kishor and Pavan Kumar Varma, from the party for allegedly indulging in anti-party activities. Poll strategist Kishor was working as the national vice-president whereas Varma, a diplomat-turned-politician, had been serving as party’s national general secretary-cum national spokesperson.

The party axed the two leaders as they had been constantly speaking against the Citizenship Amendment Act while the party had supported it in the Parliament. Apart from causing embarrassment, continued criticism of the contentious act, NPR, and the NRC gave the impression that these leaders had the “tacit support” of the party leadership.

On Tuesday, the chief minister even subtly asked them to quit if they don’t want to be bound by the party discipline and revealed that Kishor was inducted into the JD-U on the recommendation of former BJP president Amit Shah. But instead of falling in line, Kishor reacted by terming the chief minister a “liar” and someone entirely “different” from that of Nitish in the matter of ideology. This apparently irked the party leadership which in a quick action showed both of them the door. Kishor reacted by thanking the chief minister and “wishing him to retain the chair of the chief minister”.

“It appears from their conduct they don’t want themselves to be bound by party discipline and wish to quit. Keeping this into view, both Prashant Kishor and Pavan Varma are freed from all responsibilities, including the primary membership of the party,” a statement issued by party general secretary KC Tyagi said on Wednesday. According to the statement, Kishor used “insulting words” against the chief minister and hence he was expelled from the party to prevent “he doesn’t fall more”—a kind of epithet used by Kishor on Tuesday.

“@NitishKumar what a fall for you to lie about how and why you made me join JDU!! Poor attempt on your part to try and make my colour same as yours! And if you are telling the truth who would believe that you still have courage not to listen to someone recommended by @AmitShah?” Kishor had reacted shortly after Nitish revealed he was made to join the JD-U at the instance of Amit Shah.

Quite like him, Varma too had been targeting the party for taking U-turns on various issues such as Citizenship Bill, Triple talaq and Article 370 and sought “ideological clarifications” from the chief minister. He even leaked their private conversations in public which irritated the chief minister much.

“On more than one occasion, you have expressed your grave apprehensions about the BJP-RSS combine. In my first meeting with you in Patna in August 2012, even before I had formally resigned from the IFS, you had spoken to me at length and with conviction on why Narendra Modi and his policies are inimical for the country. When you were leading the Mahagathbandhan, you had openly made a call for `RSS Mukt Bharat’. These views, articulated for a sustained period, are a matter of public record,” Varma had said in his letter to Nitish.

Party insiders say both these leaders were acting as a part of JD-U strategy to put pressure on the BJP to declare Nitish as NDA’s chief ministerial face in Bihar while a section of BJP leaders wanted to project someone else as the NDA face this time. The story gains ground from the fact that the JD-U leadership didn’t act against Prashant even after he had met Mamata Banerjee last year.

The chief minister rejected it by simply stating that the party had nothing to do with Kishor meeting the West Bengal chief minister. He again defended Prashant last month and didn’t act against him even when he went on speaking against the Citizenship bill. Instead, Nitish told him to “keep doing his works unmindful of what others say”. Reports said the chief minister turned angry when both the leaders refused to speak against the CAA, NPR, and NRC despite the fact that former BJP chief and union home minister Amit Shah at a rally in Bihar had formally declared Nitish as the “NDA’s chef ministerial face” for Bihar.