After a relatively poor performance in the recently concluded elections, the Janata Dal (U) is striving to consolidate its legislative tally by trying to rope in legislators from other parties and expand its social and electoral base by luring beleaguered Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) chief Upendra Kushwaha into the party fold.
While Kushwaha met Chief Minister Nitish Kumar soon after declaration of the state assembly election results, some MLAs from the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have also called on state JD(U) president Bashishtha Narayan Singh, fuelling speculations about the party’s bid to poach the Congress as well as lone MLAs of some smaller parties which are vulnerable.
The only MLA of the BSP, Mohammad Jama Khan from Chainpur assembly constituency, had a talk with state JD(U) chief over modalities of his likely merger with the ruling party soon. If Khan is formally inducted into the JD(U), it will not lead to termination of his membership under the anti-defection law as he is the only MLA of the BSP in Bihar.
Congress legislator Murari Prasad Gautam from Chenari also had a talk with top JD(U) leaders recently. Some other Congress MLAs are also in regular touch with education minister Ashok Choudhary, who was state Congress chief before joining the JD(U). Choudhary reportedly has been assigned the job of poaching MLAs from the 19-member Congress legislature party.
Speculations are rife that the Congress could be the most vulnerable prey for the political hunters in the backdrop of the party's miserable performance in the state assembly elections. It could win only 19 seats against the 70 it contested. Altogether 13 legislators are required to split the Congress legislature party to skip the vice of the anti-defection law.
An independent MLA from Chakai, Sumit Singh, son of former minister Narendra Singh, has already pledged support to Nitish Kumar soon after the government formation. Narendra Singh has been part of the key team of the JP movement besides Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and Sushil Kumar Modi.
The move is considered an exercise by the ruling JD(U) to expand its legislative strength in the state assembly. The JD(U) has won only 43 seats and is forced to play the second fiddle in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has substantially improved its tally to 74 this time against 53 in 2015.
With the support of independent MLA Sumit Singh and BSP MLA Jama Khan, the legislative strength of the JD(U) has reached 45 in the 243-member Bihar assembly. This exercise on part of the ruling JD(U) is also imperative because it could itself become victim of poaching by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad, who is known for his precision to slice the rival political parties vertically.
After the crushing defeat in the state polls, Kushwaha is desperately trying to find space in Bihar politics and stay relevant among the various political players. It is learnt Kushwaha has offered olive branches to the JD(U) leader by censuring RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, who had made a personal attack on Nitish Kumar in the state assembly.
Kushwaha’s tete-a-tete with Kumar indicates the possibility of a new political equation with realignment of political forces in Bihar. Kushwaha was part of the founding team of the Samata Party, the precursor of the JD(U), before he parted company with Kumar. He had resigned from the union council of ministers in 2016 after the BJP joined hands with Kumar to form the government in Bihar.
It is learnt that Kushwaha has demanded a legislative council seat for his wife Snehlata Kushwaha and a Rajya Sabha seat for himself. On its part, the JD(U) has offered merger of the RLSP with the JD(U). The RLSP chief, however, downplayed the speculations as ‘premature guesswork’ but did not rule out the possibility of a reunion in future.
The RLSP, which had fought the 2020 assembly polls in alliance with the BSP and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), drew a blank with only 1.77 per cent votes. In 2015 assembly polls, the RLSP was part of the NDA and won two seats with 2.56 per cent votes. In 2014 Lok Sabha, it won three seats as part of the NDA with 6.97 per cent votes but failed to win any seat in parliamentary polls in 2019 when it fought as part of the UPA. The vote percentage of the party stood at 3.66 per cent.
Despite poor electoral performance, Kushwaha can add to the political heft of Kumar and the JD(U)-RLSP can become an important social group in Bihar. While Kumar represents nearly 2 per cent powerful Kurmis, Kushwaha belongs to nearly 6 per cent Koeris. As per mythology, Kurmis and Koeris trace their origin to Luv and Kush respectively.
After parting ways with Lalu Prasad in 1994, Kumar had forged a powerful ‘Luv-Kush’ partnership which became a potent power block among the Annexure 2 backward castes against electorally preponderant Yadavs. Kumar had made first-term MLA Upendra Kushwaha the leader of opposition in 2004, ignoring many senior leaders.
Soon Kushwaha, who nourishes chief ministerial ambitions and wants substantial share in power for Koeris, turned a rebel and formed his own party – the RLSP. In 2014, it became part of the NDA and Kushwaha became a minister in the NDA government. But the return of JD(U) into the NDA fold in 2017 changed the equation and Kushwaha became part of the Mahagathbandhan.
After severe drubbing in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Kushwaha strived for becoming the chief ministerial candidate of the Mahagathbandhan in 2020 polls but he eventually walked out as the RJD projected Tejashwi Yadav as the chief ministerial candidate. He floated a six-party front with AIMIM, BSP and others. Barring the AIMIM, which won five seats in the Seemanchal region, the front failed miserably.
The possibility of their coming together seems imminent as Kumar wants to gain the lost ground through Kushwaha by roping in the support of the Koeris. The RLSP chief too has no choice left but to join his mentor Kumar. But the BJP assent will be needed if Kushwaha is considered for the Rajya Sabha.