Upendra Kushwaha downplayed Nitish absence from President Droupadi Murmu oath taking ceremony. (Image credit: Zee News file photo)

Nitish reaching out to estranged friends to improve his bargaining position

Ahead of 2015 Assembly election Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar extended his hand of friendship towards Bade Bhai-turned-arch rival Lalu Prasad as he wanted to checkmate the growing influence of the BJP and return to power once again. He succeeded in his attempt and the Grand Alliance, which he and the RJD supremo had formed, won 178 seats in the House of 243.

But, of late, he is once again busy in somewhat similar type of exercise—the only difference is that he is doing so after becoming the chief minister for, technically speaking, the seventh time.   

It seems that in a bid to improve his bargaining position vis-à-vis the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Bihar chief minister is these days in search of lost old friends. The most surprising development was the meeting between him and the leader of Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, Upendra Kushwaha, on December 2.

A couple of days later the leader of Jan Adhikar Party and former MP, Pappu Yadav, had a few words of praise for the Bihar chief minister.

Nitish-Tejashwi Verbal Duel

The Nitish-Kushwaha meeting followed the November 27 exchange of words between the leader of opposition in Bihar Assembly, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav and the chief minister. 

Replying to Tejashwi’s attack on Nitish for raising the issue of the number of daughters Lalu had fathered in Assembly election rallies, the chief minister-cum-Janata Dal (United) president targeted the RJD leader and his parents and called them corrupt.

Many independent political observers are of the view that it was not appropriate for Tejashwi to raise this issue, yet at the same time they were surprised over the manner in which Nitish went overboard and spoke what he should have avoided. Within his own party there were two opinions—some openly backed him while some others in private confided that Nitish should maintain gravity.

But one person who surprisingly came out openly in support then was Upendra Kushwaha, whose party RLSP drew blank in the recently held Assembly election.

RLSP was a constituent of the Grand Democratic Secular Alliance—Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM and Mayawati’s BSP being the other two partners. But the big question is as to why is Nitish keen to befriend Kushwaha or even Pappu Yadav whose party JAP too failed to open its account?

But there is a reason behind Nitish’s latest move. Nitish fully knows as to how Upendra Kushwaha ditched him in 2010 within months of his re-induction into the Janata Dal (United). This was so even when Nitish sent him to Rajya Sabha in that very year.

Old Nitish-Kushwaha Relationship

Kushwaha, it needs to be mentioned, had even briefly served as the leader of opposition in Bihar Assembly before the 2005 election in the state. 

He was then considered close to Nitish. But his bargaining position received a setback as in 2005 election Kushwaha lost from his own seat when the NDA under Nitish came to power in a big way. He left the Janata Dal (United) and joined the Nationalist Congress Party. He rejoined the JD(U) in 2009 and left it a year later. He subsequently formed his own RLSP and became an NDA constituent only after Nitish snapped ties with the BJP in June 2013.

He got elected as MP and became the Union minister of state for HRD in the Narendra  Modi government. All these years he was a very bitter critic of Nitish.

However, Kushwaha once again became uncomfortable when Nitish rejoined the NDA in July 2017 and resigned from the Modi government in December 2018.  

Wake-up Call for Nitish

He joined the Grand Alliance in 2019 but after the latter’s disastrous performance tried to make a re—entry into the NDA. But it was Nitish who took no interest in taking him back. Instead Nitish was more keen on taking Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha and Mukesh Sahni’s VIP.

But the severe drubbing which Nitish got in the recently held Assembly election came as a wake-up call for him.

To avoid any arm-twisting by the much stronger alliance partner, the BJP, Nitish is badly in need of friends. Just a day after the Nov 10 results of the Assembly election Manjhi called upon the newly elected Congress legislators to join hands with JD(U) as ideologically there is little difference between both the parties.

There was the general feeling in political circles that Manjhi  gave this statement on the behalf of Nitish. If two-thirds of 19-member Congress Legislature Party splits and joins the JD(U) the latter’s number in Assembly may certainly swell considerably from the present 43.

Nitish thus would be in a slightly better position to flex his muscle.

True RLSP has no MLA yet improving relationship with Kushwaha would be in the interest of Nitish –at least in the long run. Kushwaha still has some influence within his caste, Koeri, who voted overwhelmingly for the NDA, especially JD(U) this time too.

(Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna)

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