Should BJP in Bihar worry at Nitish Kumar and Upendra Kushwaha coming together?

The merger of RLSP with JD(U) is seen as a marriage of convenience as both Nitish Kumar and Upendra Kushwaha need each other to forge Kurmi-Koeri unity in Bihar politics

Should BJP in Bihar worry at Nitish Kumar and Upendra Kushwaha coming together?

Abdul Qadir

An Urdu couplet penned by well-known poet Bashir Badr reads:

'Dushmani jam kar karo, lekin ye gunjaish rahe,

Phir kabhi hum dost bun jayein to sharminda na hon'

(Even sworn enemies must be careful so that they are not embarrassed if they turn into friends in future)

Former Union HRD minister Upendra Kushwaha may not have come across the couplet. Otherwise he would not have said earlier, “Hum Munh khol denge to Nitishji munh dikhane laayaq nahin rahenge ( if I were to open my mouth, Nitish ji will not be able to show his face in public).

Thankfully Upendra Kushwaha did not open his mouth and Nitish Kumar continues to be the most presentable face of Bihar politics. Both of them beamed before cameras last week after Kushwaha merged his fledgeling party with Janata Dal (U).

Observers see it as a marriage of convenience rather than a union of hearts. It also opens a new chapter in the 'Bade Bhai, Chhote Bhai' style politics in which the 'Chhota Bhai' (Nitish) graduates to become the big brother (Bada Bhai) role in Bihar politics. In the previous one, Lalu claimed the 'Bade Bhai' slot and Nitish acknowledged that position. Now Kushwaha hopes one day to graduate to the status of ‘Bada Bhai’.

Nitish Kumar is apparently busy strengthening his visibly weak base that puts him at the mercy of the BJP. On its part, BJP is doing everything to eat into Nitish's political base, first when it propped up LJP chief Chirag Paswan and subsequently when it inducted an EBC as Dy CM. EBC’s are perceived to be Nitish’s supporters and as such Renu Devi’s induction as Dy CM was seen as an attempt to cut Nitish Kumar down to size.

Realising the implications of a sufficiently weakened legislative strength, Nitish almost immediately after being sworn in as the CM, began the exercise to win over lone legislators of the LJP and BSP. BSP MLA Zaman Khan formally joined JD(U) and was subsequently inducted as a minister.

Similarly, independent MLA from Chakai Sumit Kumar Singh was inducted as minister from the JD (U) quota. Sumit Kumar Singh is the son of maverick leader and former minister Narendra Singh. His induction is all the more important as Chakai is part of the Jamui Parliamentary constituency represented by Chirag.

Besides engineering defections, Nitish Kumar also created a special upper caste cell in his party to woo the upper castes who do not have much love for Nitish, who is the face of Backward classes in the state. The upper caste cell of the JD(U) by all available indications has not taken off yet and as such Nitish has to look for leaders like Kanhaiya Kumar and Upendra Kushwaha to expand his support base.

Following the incident in which Kanhaiya allegedly assaulted the office secretary of the state CPI, the former JNU Students Union President has been ticked off by CPI leadership following which his ‘courtesy call’ on Nitish confidante Ashok Chaudhary is interpreted as part of the ongoing recruitment drive of the JD(U).

Having drawn a blank in the 2020 assembly elections, Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP had been pushed to the margins of state politics. He too needed a bigger platform to stay relevant in the state. Koeris, the caste to which Kushwaha belongs, have been at the forefront of anti-upper caste movement in the state, so much so that late Jagdeo Prasad, the most prominent Koeri leader coined the slogan ‘abki saal ke bhado mein, gori ungli (white fingers of upper caste women) kado (muddy field) mein. Several decades ago, the Koeris launched the Janeu (sacred thread) discard movement and gave a call to stop enlisting services of priests for conducting marriages and other rituals.

Nitish Kumar and Upendra Kushwaha need each other. Apart from Kushwaha other state leaders like Shivanand Tiwari and Nagmani have also had some kind of love - hate relationship with Nitish.

It is to be seen though how long their present friendship lasts.

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