Vaulting ambition of junior Union HRD minister and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) chief Upendra Kushwaha to catapult himself to Bihar CM’s chair and his use of a Nitish ‘trick’ to beat him with, has boomeranged. He has virtually turned into a pariah within the ruling NDA. And, the prospect of him deriving substantial benefit by jumping on the opposition Grand Alliance bandwagon in Bihar doesn’t appear very bright.
All eyes are now on Kushwaha’s next move. Political pundits are of the opinion that the only way he can come up now is to replicate mausam vaigyanik (weatherman) Ram Vilas Paswan, so called for successfully gauging the public mood for aligning with the winning political grouping in many elections in the past, during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The latest round of political acrimony between Kushwaha and Nitish’s JD(U) is centred around the former’s charge that the Bihar CM had called him ‘neech’ (lowly person) at a conference on the state’s development organized in Patna earlier this month. He sought a public apology by the CM. His acolytes took out a protest march in the state capital on Saturday, November 10, during which all hell broke loose with police caning the rallyists.
The JD(U) retaliated, with Nitish loyalist and party’s new vice-president Prashant Kishor holding parleys with RLSP’s MLA Sudhanshu Shekhar the other day. Speculation is rife that Sudhanshu is ready to defect to JD(U) if offered a berth in Nitish cabinet. RLSP has only two MLAs in Bihar, with the other legislator already being a rebel. Kushwaha lost no time crying foul, terming the attempt to lure the RLSP MLA as ‘immoral’.
The latest round of political acrimony between Kushwaha and Nitish’s JD(U) is centred around the former’s charge that the Bihar CM had called him ‘neech’ (lowly person) at a conference on the state’s development organized in Patna earlier this month
In alleging that Nitish had called him ‘neech’, Kushwaha had taken the cue from the Bihar CM himself. When Nitish was arraigned against NaMo, after breaking alliance with the BJP, Modi had questioned the ‘political DNA’ of Nitish in a speech in Bihar. Nitish had tried to turn it to his advantage by alleging that Narendra Modi has demeaned the DNA of Biharis as a whole. A widespread campaign was launched to collect hair and nail samples of Nitish loyalists, to be sent to the PMO.
Much like Nitish earlier, Kushwaha tried to give a spin to the Bihar CM’s remark. At the conference in question, the anchor had asked the CM questions about Kushwaha’s statement that Nitish would not like to remain chief minister after 2020, and the CM had reacted by asking the anchor not to lower the standard of discussion, “Discussion ka standard itna neeche mat le kar jaiyeye.”
Kushwaha tried to rope in Ram Vilas Paswan on his side on Sunday, November 11. He called up the Dalit leader but soon after, Paswan’s son and LJP parliamentary board chairman Chirag Paswan took a dig at him, saying, “Nobody from the JD(U) has issued any comment against him. It is he who is issuing comments. This is a one-way traffic from Upendraji’s side. If there is a problem he better speak at the proper platform…not…in the public domain.”
Similarly, Kushwaha talked of taking up the matter with BJP chief Amit Shah. But the BJP too seems to have become frigid towards him. Deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi took the wind out of Kushwaha’s sails when he came forward in Nitish’s defence, saying in a tweet, “Nitish Kumar never used the word ‘neech’ in his interaction with media. I was present in the programme. Still some leaders trying to become martyr but will not succeed.” Kushwaha’s meeting with former JD(U) MP Sharad Yadav in New Delhi on Monday, November 12, and with RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav earlier have set tongues wagging. Kushwaha, thus finds himself isolated now.
So, what essentially began as Kushwaha fancying himself as CM material, has boiled down to the issue of striking a good seat sharing deal for the upcoming 2019 LS election. The JD(U) had stood for elections alone in the 2014 LS poll, bagging just two seats out of a total of 40 in Bihar. RLSP, on the other hand, as part of NDA, had contested three seats, winning all of them. However, one of the MPs rebelled against Kushwaha later.
However, this time around, with JD(U) being an NDA ally, the BJP and the JD(U) have agreed to contest equal number of seats in 2019, though the exact number of seats each of them will contest is still undecided. Kushwaha is reportedly upset with the BJP for offering RLSP just two LS seats. He claims that his support base has grown and Kushwahas, the caste to which he belongs, constitute about 8% of OBCs. Kurmis, on the other hand, to which Nitish belongs, constitute less than about 2%.
Sources in the BJP and JD(U) say they are resigned to Kushwaha crossing over to the RJD-led Grand Alliance in Bihar. RJD is likely to embrace him with open arms, possibly offering him a few more LS seats than the NDA in the 2019 polls. But the Grand Alliance (GA) may also weigh Kushwaha’s ability to transfer his community’s votes in GA’s favour.
Early this year, the JD(U) candidate had to bite the dust in Jehanabad assembly bypoll. Political analysts say after Yadavs and Bhumihars, Kushwahas constitute the largest community in this area. Had Upendra Kushwaha the capacity to command and transfer his community’s votes, a la BSP’s Mayawati, the poll result could have been different. This consideration could make Grand Alliance strike a hard bargain with Kushwaha.
Under the circumstances, Kushwaha may keep a hawk’s eye on the way the wind is blowing in the run-up to 2019 poll and choose his ally accordingly. Will he be lucky again, being in the company of victorious combination, will be watched with more than ordinary interest in Bihar.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed in the article are personal)