New Delhi: Sushil Kumar Shinde had been doing the rounds of the Tughlaq Road residence of Lalu Yadav in Delhi for a month. Ahead of the 2009 general elections, the Congress leader in-charge of Bihar had been assiduously attempting to get a respectable seat allocation from senior partners in the state: Messers Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan.
Amidst all these talks, the RJD and LJP chiefs called a press conference at Hotel Lalit at Connaught Place and unilaterally announced seat sharing formula for Bihar, leaving Congress in the cold. It is another matter that both Lalu and Paswan bit more than they could chew in 2009 and remained in the cold for the next four years. But that’s how seat-sharing talks amongst allies unfold. There are no free lunches, and there are no niceties involved.
The distilled reports of Nitish Kumar arm-twisting a dream seat-sharing formula from the BJP seems to have only emboldened even smaller allies like Upendra Kushwaha to seek a larger pie in the cake. The JD(U) chief sent a strong message in his reported meeting with a senior BJP leader from Gujarat when the latter flew in to Patna to invite Kumar for the unveiling of the Statue of Unity. Taking a cue, Kushwaha, met Lalu’s son in Patna and kept BJP leaders waiting when invited to finalise seat-sharing arrangement in Delhi.
Interestingly, some of the seats demanded by Kushwaha’s party Rashtiraya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) has set the cat amongst the pigeons. They are said to be seats currently represented by some senior BJP leaders.
Kushwaha, a Nitish Kumar protege once, has also continued his tirade against the Bihar chief minister. He has unilaterally announced that Kumar may not want to continue as chief minister after 2020 when the state assembly polls are slated to be held. These statements have been made despite JD(U) leaders repeatedly trying to impress upon the BJP that Kumar would be the face of the NDA next assembly polls in Bihar.
The repeated provocations by Kushwaha, a caste leader whose party won 4 Lok Sabha seats as part of the NDA in 2014, is emerging as a pattern in the larger political narrative that he may be trying to build. Is he attempting to force BJP’s hand in Bihar and emerge as a martyr? Community pride and insult at the hands of dominant groups can be a powerful alibi in seeking separation. It can later be used to play the victim card at the hustings.
Kushwaha has for long considered himself as a natural successor in the political progression and distribution of political power to smaller caste groups in Bihar within the larger backward block—from RJD to JD(U), from Lalu to Nitsh, from Yadavs to Kurmis.
Kushawaha’s caste alone does not have numerical strength to alter electoral fortunes in the state. But as a part of larger social coalition, he can bring in the top-up votes of his community in an umbrella social coalition.
Which is why both BJP and JD(U) have been very careful in dealing Kushwaha's tantrums. The bigger NDA partners in Bihar have ensured that they make the right noises and keep up the appearances of making a serious bid to keep RSLP in NDA fold.
Smaller caste groups have to be nimble on their feet for survival. So has been Kushwaha.