OPINION | Why Upendra Kushwaha Sees Himself as Natural Successor of Lalu and Nitish in Bihar Politics
Although RLSP president Upendra Kushwaha nourishes high political ambitions, his ability to command and transfer his caste votes to alliance partners remains to be tested.
File photo of RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha. (PTI File Photo)
Patna: In November last year, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) president Upendra Kushwaha created a flutter in the political circles when he made a startling claim that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had reached a saturation point in power and wanted to step down after assembly elections in 2020. Kushwaha claimed that it was Kumar himself who had confided in him about not wanting to continue as the chief minister after staying in power for 15 years.
While this assertion infuriated Nitish Kumar no end, it simultaneously reflected upon the secret wish of Kushwaha to become the chief minister of Bihar. Kushwaha has been unequivocally stating that it was now the turn of Koeris, the caste which he belongs to, to rule in Bihar after 15-year rule of Yadavas led by Lalu Prasad Yadav and the subsequent 15-year rule of Kurmis led by Nitish.
His proclamation, however, cost him dearly as his stature in the NDA started fading. Knowing the secret political ambition of Kushwaha, the top NDA leaders ensured that he was no longer part of the NDA. At Nitish’s insistence or otherwise, the BJP did not make much effort to keep him in the NDA fold.
Actually, Kushwaha was sulking in the NDA ever since Nitish joined the BJP bandwagon after deserting the grand alliance in July 2017. Kushwaha and Nitish have never been together in one political alliance since they parted company in 2013. Just before Nitish severed his 17-year-old ties with the BJP in June 2013 and stormed out of the NDA, Kushwaha quit JDU and floated his own outfit -- the RLSP -- and later joined the NDA.
Nitish was once Kushwaha’s mentor and had made him the leader of opposition in Bihar assembly in 2004 even though Kushwaha was then a first-time legislator. Kushwaha was also made a Rajya Sabha MP.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he won from the Karakat seat, while his two other party candidates – Ram Kumar Sharma and Arun Kumar – won from Sitamarhi and Jehanabad seats respectively. With three Lok Sabha MPs in his kitty, Kushwaha used to proudly claim that his party was bigger than that of Nitish Kumar’s JDU, which had only two MPs in Lok Sabha.
Although Kushwaha nourishes high political ambitions, his ability to command and transfer his caste votes to alliance partners remains to be tested. His sub-caste in Bihar is numerically bigger than the backward Kurmi community whose leadership Nitish Kumar has donned since breaking ties with Lalu Yadav.
And then there were allegations of RLSP tickets being given in exchange for money, something which Kushwaha has vehemently denied.
This time, the RLSP has been given five Lok Sabha seats in the grand alliance, including Karakat, Ujiyarpur, East Champaran, West Champaran and Jamui. Of these, Kushwaha is fighting from two seats – Karakat, from where he is the sitting MP, and Ujiyarpur.
Speculations have been rife on why Kushwaha is contesting from two Lok Sabha seats in these elections. Karakat has a sizeable population of upper castes, who are considered to be staunch NDA supporters. But the other seat, Ujiyarpur, has a substantial population of backward castes, especially that of his Koeri community.
Kushwaha, however, has insisted that he is not contesting from more than one seat out of fear of defeat from Karakat, but to teach a lesson to the JDU and the BJP which have been jointly conspiring to finish him off politically. He claimed that he would thrash the JDU candidate from Karakat and trounce the BJP candidate and state BJP president Nityanand Rai from Ujiyarpur.
In the remaining three seats, Bhudeo Choudhary has fought against LJP sitting MP Chirag Paswan in the first phase, while Brajesh Kumar Kushwaha would take on sitting BJP MP Dr Sanjay Jaysawal in West Champaran. Akash Kumar Singh would challenge union minister Radha Mohan Singh in East Champaran in the fourth, sixth and seventh phases of Bihar polls.
Kushwaha has been at the receiving end on the East Champaran seat for nominating Akash Kumar Singh, son of Bihar Congress Campaign Committee chairman Akhilesh Prasad Singh. It is alleged that Kushwaha had promised the seat to two of his close associates -- Madhav Anand and Pradeep Mishra.
A few months ahead of the polls, Kushwaha was envisaged as ‘an emerging leader of the Koeri caste’ and it was largely understood that he would soon build up the capacity to transfer the votes of his community to the party or combination of his choice. His efforts to drive a wedge in the famous Luv-Kush (Kurmi-Koeri) combination and his views on Koeri resurrection, with a goal to assume political and administrative power, used to be hotly debated in the political circles.
Kushwaha has tried to unite the Yadavas and Koeris with his Kheer theory, saying a delicious Kheer (a dessert made of milk and rice) is possible only when the milk comes from the Yadavas and the rice from the Koeris. While the Yadavas constitute nearly 12 per cent of the total population, the Koeris account for 6 per cent of the total electorate in Bihar.
Since 1990, Bihar is being ruled by leaders of the social justice groups and Kushwaha also nourishes ambitions to assume political power. But the fulfillment of his dreams and empowerment of the Koeri community will largely depend on the performance of the RLSP in the ensuing polls as stakes are quite high for him to survive in politics.
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