Is Upendra Kushwaha’s advice to ‘friend’ BJP a sign of discontent?

RLSP leader and Minister of State Upendra Kushwaha on Sunday claimed that while asking NDA ally RLSP to stay out of UP polls, a big BJP leader had told him that an OBC would be made UP chief minister

Photo by Vishwa Deepak/National Herald
Photo by Vishwa Deepak/National Herald


Significant signals are often hidden in politicians’ words. On the fourth foundation day event of NDA constituent Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), Union Minister of State for HRD and RLSP president Upendra Kushwaha had some more advice to his “friends of the BJP”. The advice, however, could have been mistaken for an expression of annoyance, rather than a friendly gesture.

Kushwaha’s comments are perhaps an inkling of new tensions which could emerge after the Uttar Pradesh election results on March 11. Otherwise, why would a minister of the Modi government comment on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaigning choices—while the elections are still underway?

After the Prime Minister’s ‘jan darshan’ on Saturday, in which he travelled the streets of Varanasi in a cavalcade of cars, Kushwaha had advised the Prime Minister that it was appropriate for a PM to address rallies—but not road shows— for a state assembly election. A day after, on Sunday, speaking at the RLSP event in Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium, Kushwaha said, “After the PM’s intervention, we had decided not to take part in UP elections. An important leader of the BJP who shows deep concern for the OBCs had said on the telephone that you should not put up candidates in Uttar Pradesh. We will make a Maurya the chief minister of the state. Congratulating them in advance, I would like to say to friends in BJP that you should remember your promise.”

Kushwaha did not divulge the name of this BJP leader. Other RLSP leaders also refused to reveal who it was, leading to speculation over a number of names, from Uma Bharti to Yogi Adityanath to BJP national president Amit Shah.

Given that it was the RLSP’s foundation day, party president Kushwaha spoke very little about his own party. Instead, he appeared more preoccupied with the NDA government. He kept praising the Prime Minister in his speech, while adding that the “environment” around the PM was not conducive. “I feel proud of working with Modi. He hails from an extreme backward class and is empathetic towards the oppressed and backward classes. He wants to work for them too but the environment around him is not conducive to social justice,” he claimed. In his presidential address, Kushwaha twice mentioned Modi’s “helplessness”. It was not difficult to understand that despite all the praise for the PM, he was in fact hinting at his displeasure.

A young participant from Bihar, commenting philosophically, said “Brother, all is not well.”

Sharad Pradhan, a senior journalist who has observed Uttar Pradesh politics from close quarters says, “It is true that Prime Minister Modi is nervous and is organising rallies and road shows one after the other, but Upendra Kushwaha does not have much at stake in UP politics, whatever he may claim.”

The question, then, is what’s the reason behind Kushwaha’s restlessness? And why did he suddenly start speaking up after the sixth phase of the ongoing UP assembly election?

Former editor of Rajya Sabha TV and senior journalist Urmilesh said “To seize new regions and communities, the BJP ties up with small parties and leaders who are already active in these communities and strengthens its own base. Upendra’s discontent is now coming to the fore because he now feels that the BJP has become stronger among his own community in UP’s Purvanchal region by riding on his back.”

The non-Yadav OBC castes to which Kushwaha belongs, which include Kushwahas, Shakyas, Sainis and Mauryas, number around 13% in Uttar Pradesh, but are mostly clustered in Purvanchal, or eastern Uttar Pradesh. Perhaps that explains why Kushwaha is speaking now, as the closing two phases of the UP election are in Purvanchal seats. As soon as Modi did a road show in Varanasi—the cultural capital of Purvanchal, Kushwaha became ill at ease.

An RLSP leader said that other smaller parties in the NDA fold are also feeling a 'discomfort’. An upper caste RLSP leader claimed to this reporter on condition of anonymity, “Ram Vilas Paswan is also not happy with the Modi government. Let’s see what happens.”

Analysts say that after the beginning of Modi era in the BJP, the smaller parties in the NDA coalition have started feeling an existential threat. This discontent is not very vocal, but brewing silently.

History is witness to the fact that the rise of the BJP has often been at the cost of smaller allies. Urmilesh says, “Remember how strong the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party was in Goa at one point of time. Then BJP tied up with it and today the BJP is running the government in Goa. The Gomantak Party barely exists. The same is the case with Anupriya Patel’s party, which is now divided. Because the BJP has the agenda of religion and communalism and it has RSS cadre and corporate capital backing to implement it, hence the smaller parties cannot compete with it.”

It may be recalled that just four months ago, Upendra Kushwaha had suddenly walked out of an NDA press conference in Delhi, without any apparent reason, while many NDA leaders were still present. The conference had been organised to present a charge sheet against the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar. Later, it was said that Kushwaha was unhappy at not being given adequate attention and respect.

Four months on, it appears Kushwaha’s unhappiness still simmers. After Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray, the RLSP leader could become another voice of discontent within the NDA coalition that the BJP has to deal with.

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