By Arun Srivastava
BJP has tossed up a strategic fight against Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. While party chief Amit Shah had promised to leave an equal number of Lok Sabha seats for JD(U), Prime Minister Narendra Modi is totally against such adjustment as he does not trust Nitish. But the recent political developments and the prospects of BJP losing ground in most northern states going to polls have made Modi view Shah’s accommodative politics more favourably.
If sources close to top BJP leadership are to be believed, Modi has been tactfully using Union minister Upendra Kushwaha to isolate Nitish. Kushwaha is the leader of the backward caste Koiri arming class. He has had a running feud with Nitish; floated RLSP after a bitter caste clash and has some senior upper caste bhumihars with him. He can be the ideal counterfoil to Nitish provided BJP extends support.
According to a recent announcement, BJP and the JD(U) had agreed to contest an equal number of seats in Bihar, out of a total number of 40 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This reportedly means fewer seats for the RLSP, which is an original ally of NDA, and had won three seats in the 2014 general elections. In fact, a fortnight ago, Kushwaha made a fervent appeal to Modi, seeking his intervention to resolve the seat-sharing issue in Bihar NDA. He urged the PM to ‘do justice’ to RLSP as he could not meet Amit Shah. He said he was giving additional two weeks’ time for the issue to be resolved. He said he was ready to meet Shah at his own convenience, but reminded BJP about the deadline, which was running out. He had set November 30 as the deadline for finalising seat sharing.
Kushwaha has a feeling that BJP was giving more credence to Nitish than himself, which was unfair and also the offer on hand was not respectable. He had demanded six seats this time as according to him RLSP’s strength has grown significantly. He has been using various pressure tactics on BJP to concede to his demand, which would automatically mean a reduction in the number of seats available for Nitish’s party.
Kushwaha’s party had won all the three seats it had contested in 2014 in Bihar with BJP. But, with the return of JD(U) in the coalition, the equation changed. If Kushwaha had really decided to part company with the BJP and NDA, he would have done that in October itself. In recent months he has also been in touch with RJD leader Tejashvi Yadav and had met Sharad Yadav. Sources said RJD was ready to give more seats to Kushwaha than what the BJP was willing, even though the Union Minister wanted to wait until it was clear as to how many seats each NDA constituent was likely to get.
The RLSP leader has set frequent deadlines and kept extending them. In fact, the BJP leadership is also unhappy with Kushwaha. Their simple grievance is he keeps airing his grievances before the media. He is a member of the Union Council of Ministers. The leaders feel that he can meet the Prime Minister and express his concerns.
The NDA has three allies in Bihar, JD(U) of Nitish Kumar, Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP. As per the seat sharing deal struck between BJP president Amit Shah and Nitish Kumar, both the parties are contesting17 seats each and the remaining 6 seats were to be divided between LJP and RLSP.
He may not be a king maker or a chief ministerial pick, but Upendra Kushwaha can certainly make a dent in JD(U) vote share to the benefit of BJP. More than Nitish, Kushwaha had helped NDA to make inroads among backward castes voters in Bihar during the 2014 elections..
Being a middle class Hindu, Kshatriya Kushwaha represents the Kushwahas community, which is the second largest backward caste grouping in Bihar, constituting around seven to eight percent. Enthused by RLSP’s début performance in 2014 elections, Kushwaha’s supporters have been raising the demand to make him a chief ministerial candidate of NDA in Bihar. Even RLSP state president Arun Kumar had a few months back said that Kushwaha was the most capable and deserving candidate for the post.