When Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had announced the nomination of his principal secretary, Ram Chandra Prasad Singh, aka RCP Singh, an IAS officer, as a Rajya Sabha member in 2010, it came as a surprise to many Janata Dal (United) leaders.
After nearly a decade, Nitish again sprung a surprise on Sunday when he declared to quit the post of the JD(U) national president and appointed RCP Singh in his place at the two-day national executive meeting of the party. The passing of the baton from Nitish Kumar to RCP Singh was as smooth as Singh’s entry into politics with a Rajya Sabha nomination about a decade ago.
Nitish could have continued on the post till 2022 as he was re-elected as the JD(U) president in 2019 for three years. But he preferred to relinquish the post in the changed political circumstances after the 2020 Bihar assembly elections in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured 74 seats and the JD(U) could win only 43 seats.
“I do not also want to continue as chief minister. The NDA should elect its leader. I will have no problems even if the chief minister is from the BJP. I had already expressed my desire to the NDA leaders to this effect but I had to accept the chief minister’s post due to immense pressure from the top leadership,” he said at the meeting.
The chief minister was also peeved at the poaching of six party MLAs by the BJP in Arunachal Pradesh and the negative campaign being run on social media over many issues. “One party MLA in Arunachal Pradesh has shown that the strength lies in the party. People are trying to create hatred in society but we have always taken a principled stand on such issues,” he said.
The transfer of leadership to RCP Singh is indicative of the generational shift in the ruling JD(U) in Bihar and the hard posture the party may pursue in the days to come. It also means that the new generation of the party leadership will now deal with the allies and political parties at the state and national level.
Hitherto subdued due to its relatively poor performance in the state assembly elections with only 43 legislators, the new team of the JD(U) is expected to counter the belligerent BJP which too has brought in a new set of leaders at the state level, replacing the old guard comprising Sushil Kumar Modi and others.
Exchange of barbs from the two sides has been witnessed of late over delay in cabinet expansion, rejig of key departments between the BJP and JD(U), unwarranted intervention by some BJP leaders in matters of governance and poaching of six JD(U) legislators by the BJP in Arunachal Pradesh.
Former Union minister Sanjay Paswan has suggested the chief minister leave the home portfolio and hand it over to the BJP. In fact, the BJP has been seeking a change of the present state home secretary, who is a Muslim and is holding the post for the past several years. If the escalating hostility between the two major constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is not checked, the bond may turn strenuous.
However, top JD(U) and BJP leaders have until now dealt with the situation with circumspection and sagacity. On the Arunachal issue, the BJP attempted damage control by contending that it had "not poached" MLAs but some disgruntled legislators have switched sides on their own. On its part, the JD(U) adopted a resolution saying that the parties in coalition should follow the Atal model of alliance code.
The new president, RCP Singh, is considered a well-balanced leader who is expected to deal with the BJP keeping the NDA intact and flourishing. At the same time, he will have the task to keep his flock of MLAs united as the JD(U) is vulnerable to poaching in Bihar with relatively few legislators.
The succession from Nitish Kumar to RCP Singh has been as dramatic and studied as was the case when George Fernandes was replaced by Sharad Yadav, who in turn was changed by Nitish himself.
The elevation of RCP Singh also indicates the ideological transformation within the JD(U) from the secular and socialist strain of politics espoused by Fernandes to the soft stance on contentious issues as witnessed in case of Article 370, Ram temple, Triple Talaq and CAA. As leader of the JD(U) in the Lok Sabha, RCP Singh has stood by the BJP on these communally sensitive issues.
From a bureaucrat to JD(U) president, RCP Singh has come a long way. Ever since he was given the charge of party affairs, he successfully created his own team of leaders from the state to the panchayat level. He used to command authority among the party leaders and was also instrumental in bringing in new faces to contest the state assembly elections.
Singh was also actively involved in projecting Nitish Kumar as a potential prime ministerial candidate before the 2014 elections. As he served in Uttar Pradesh as an IAS officer, RCP Singh had organised a meet in UP to project Nitish as the tallest leader of the country.
There was a bad patch for RCP Singh when his position was downgraded with the arrival of Prashant Kishor as poll strategist of the JD(U) and later as its vice president. There were instances when senior party leaders like RCP Singh, Lallan Singh and Bijendra Prasad Yadav were peeved at being relegated to the next position after Kishor, who used to hold meetings with the party leaders.
Singh has served Nitish in the railway ministry and then as principal secretary to the chief minister in Bihar since 2005. A Kurmi by caste, the same caste which Nitish Kumar belongs to, RCP Singh is believed to be the leading person in the CM's coterie of advisors.
Ever since he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha, RCP Singh has been Kumar’s political emissary in Delhi especially after rejoining the NDA in 2017. Singh played a significant role in the formation of the JD(U)-BJP alliance during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and Bihar assembly polls.
Singh had also played a crucial role in forming the Grand Alliance in Bihar prior to the 2015 assembly polls. It was Singh who suggested many noble initiatives to Nitish Kumar including the bicycles to schools students, free education to girls, women's empowerment, and liquor ban.
It is also being held by JD(U) leaders that the elevation of RCP Singh to the post of party president will block his induction into the union council of ministers. RCP Singh may have donned the mantle of Nitish Kumar but it is to be seen whether he will be able to match the brand of his predecessor. He will also have to explore the possibilities of staying relevant in national politics without the BJP before the 2024 parliamentary polls.
If the BJP-JD(U) tie continues smoothly, Nitish may play a leading role in central politics and be given top constitutional posts or a senior position in the union council of ministers in future. If he decides to shun the BJP, he may play a bigger role in opposition politics before the 2024 general elections.