The nomination of Amarendra Dhari Singh, a political greenhorn, by the RJD may have surprised many, but it seems to be a calculated move by party chief Lalu Prasad Yadav to woo the upper castes, especially the powerful Bhumihar caste, that have been loyal to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP.
The opponents within the RJD and outside, however, attribute his nomination to some ‘extraneous’ consideration instead of the new social engineering formula pursued lately by the party. But Lalu’s younger son and the party’s chief ministerial candidate Tejashwi Prasad Yadav termed the nomination of Amarendra Dhari Singh a befitting reply to critics who have been accusing the RJD of confining itself only to the Muslim-Yadav formula.
“Ours is a party with plural social base. It is not a party with the support of Muslims-Yadavs alone, but the party belongs to people from A-to-Z. We respect and honour every section of the society and given appropriate representation to everyone,” he said while announcing the names of Amarendra Dhari Singh and Premchand Gupta as the party’s official Rajya Sabha nominees.
Tejashwi, however, said that this was in no way a dilution of the party’s commitment to social justice and uplift of Backward Castes, EBCs and Dalits. He said that the RJD has reserved 45 per cent of its office-bearers to people belonging to Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) and indicated that the candidates for the next assembly elections due later this year would be chosen on the basis of this formula.
The choice of Amarendra Dhari Singh has come as a big surprise to many as he has been unknown in Bihar’s political circles. The fact that he is grandson of late CPN Singh, a freedom fighter and former governor, came into open only after he filed nomination papers for the Rajya Sabha elections.
An alumnus of St Michael’s High School in Patna and Kirori Mal College in New Delhi, Singh owns a huge property at his ancestral place Emkhan and a house in New Delhi’s posh Defence Colony. According to the affidavit filed along with his nomination, Singh claims to own immovable property worth Rs 189 crore and moveable property worth Rs 50 crore and has paid income tax returns of Rs 24 crore in 2019-20.
He also owns apartments, offices and land in Mumbai, Haryana and Rajasthan. Reports also said he also ran a business of export and import of fertilizers.
This is not the first time that the RJD has given tickets to upper castes in the Rajya Sabha. In 2018, the RJD had nominated Delhi University Professor Manoj Jha and tried to reach out to people beyond the Muslim-Yadav combination. Jha is considered close to Tejashwi Yadav and it was viewed then that the young RJD leader was trying to pursue progressive politics and shed the anti-upper caste stigma by changing the discourse.
In the 2015 state assembly elections, the RJD had not given tickets to upper caste candidates except the son of senior party leader Shivanand Tiwary. The RJD has given party tickets to over 50 Yadav leaders besides more than two dozen Muslims. The Janata Dal (United), the then ally of the RJD, was asked to accommodate upper caste candidates from its quota of seats.
Ever since the fall of the Congress in 1990 in Bihar, the upper castes had shifted their loyalties to the BJP and the combination opposed to Lalu Prasad especially after implementation of the Mandal Commission report and the subsequent violent caste clashes.
Over a span of three years, the upper castes, which were considered the vote bank of the Congress, were placated by the BJP and Janata Dal-(U) combine led by Nitish Kumar as the Congress preferred to align with Lalu Prasad. The Janata Dal (U) leader also wooed the extremely backward castes (EBCs) by effecting a split among the social justice group, thereby weakening Lalu Prasad and consolidating his position by forging a winning social equation.
The RJD may have tried to shed its anti-upper caste tag, but its opposition to the 10 per cent quota for upper castes during a debate in Parliament is still haunting it. Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha has vehemently opposed the proposed legislation in the Upper House.
The nomination of Premchand Gupta and Amarendra Dhari Singh has not only ruffled the feelings of the Grand Alliance partners, especially the Congress, but it has also left some senior party leaders like former union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Sharad Yadav sulking over denial of party nomination.
Raghuvansh had recently opposed the working style of the new state party president Jagadanand Singh and shot off a letter to party president Lalu Prasad on the issue. He raised the issue of delay in formation of state-level, district and panchayat level committees. It is said he paid the price for opposing the new state president.
Veteran socialist leader Sharad Yadav, who had unsuccessfully contested the last Lok Sabha polls from Madhepura, was also lobbying for the Rajya Sabha nomination and had recently met RJD patriarch Lalu Prasad in Ranchi hospital.
The RJD has also slighted the Congress, which had been seeking one seat for actor-turned politician Shatrughan Sinha. The former Patna Sahib MP was trounced by BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad in the Lok Sabha polls.
The Congress had claimed one seat on the grounds that the RJD leadership had promised it during seat-sharing talks ahead of the last Lok Sabha elections. The party’s Bihar in-charge Shaktisinh Gohil had written an ‘open letter’ to the RJD to fulfill its promise, but the letter was scoffed at as ‘fake’ by the RJD leadership.
The BJP camp, too, witnessed opposition from the Kayashtha and Kushwaha community. While the Kayashthas are brooding over denial of nomination to sitting MP RK Sinha, the Kushwahas are angry over denial of Rajya Sabha nomination to Samrat Choudhary. It is learnt that Choudhary was not given the seat of his choice in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as it went to the Janata Dal (United) in seat-sharing. He was promised Rajya Sabha nomination this time but Vivek Thakur, the son of outgoing MP Dr CP Thakur, clinched the seat.
In the 243-member state assembly, the RJD has 79 MLAs, Congress has 26, CPI-ML has three and AIMIM has one MLA. The JD(U)-BJP-LJP combine have 127 seats in the state assembly. However, there will be no elections now as only five candidates are in the fray against the five vacant seats.
Though the RJD has tried to expand its social horizons, its acceptance among the upper castes will entirely depend on the number of seats its spares for them during ticket distribution before the crucial assembly polls.