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Parliamentary board chief of JD(U) Upendra Kushwaha is believed to have been upset after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar made it clear that there will be no other Deputy CM besides RJD's Tejashwi Yadav.
In yet another twist, JD(U) parliamentary board leader Upendra Kushwaha on Tuesday defended himself, denying reports of him joining the BJP, days after he was seen meeting saffron party leaders. Kushwaha alleged that a "conspiracy" was on to weaken his party boss and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and expressed his stauch support for the party.
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However, Kushwaha's displeasure with Nitish Kumar apparently over the latter's refusal to have him as a deputy chief minister — in addition to RJD's Tejashwi Yadav — has piqued the situation. Over the last few days, Bihar politics went into a tizzy as the meeting which triggered rumours of another 'Operation Lotus', a term used for BJP's efforts break up parties or coalitions in power in states.
Nitish Kumar, himself known for his many flip flops, was not quite welcoming of Kushwaha's overtures, and when asked about him, recalled that the latter had left and returned to the JD(U) 2-3 times.
However, the political air in Bihar weighs heavy as Nitish Kumar is faced with a number of issues, including RJD leader Chandra Shekhar's controversial remark on Ramcharitmanas.
Cat and mouse game between Kushwaha and Nitish Kumar
Upendra Kushwaha, a key political aide of Nitish Kumar, had quit the JD(U) in 2013 to float Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP). He allied with the NDA and tasted success in the Lok Sabha polls a year later and won a berth in the Union council of ministers.
Later, when Nitish Kumar returned to the NDA in 2017, Kushwaha grew uneasy. Nitish had quit the NDA in 2013 after it named Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. He quit the alliance and gave up his ministerial berth the next year. After spending several years in political wilderness, he was finally resurrected by his former mentor.
Kushwaha merged his RLSP with the JD(U) in 2021 with an eye on consolidation of the Koeri-Kurmi voter base — Kushwaha is from Koeri community while Nitish is from Kurmi. He was quickly rewarded with the top party post and a berth in the legislative council.
Nitish however left NDA and stitched a coalition with RJD and Congress last year and made RJD's Tejashwi Yadav the deputy chief minister. Nitish upped the game by saying that RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav will be the leader of the Mahagathbandhan for the 2025 assembly elections. Kushwaha, who seems to have been rubbed the wrong way by this, is now believed to have pined for the Bihar Deputy CM post and made overtures to BJP.
Why Kushwaha is said to be joining BJP
Earlier this month, Upendra Kushwaha was admitted to AIIMS for a check-up. Pictures of him with some BJP leaders at the hospital room emerged, fuelling speculation about the leader's possibility of joining the BJP.
Nitish Kumar, however, dismissed Kushwaha's loquacity as "not worth taking note of". "Everybody has a right to decide his course. Kushwaha has parted ways, only to return to us, on more than one occasion," he said. He even sarcastically referred to Kushwaha as having changed loyalties in the past.
Following this, Kushwaha made a controversial remark, claiming that "big leaders" in the JD(U) are maintaining "deep" contacts with those in the BJP. The statement did not go down well with Nitish Kumar even as speculations were rife that Kushwaha had attempted an indirect jibe at Kumar, whose personal equations with BJP leaders like the late Arun Jaitley have been the stuff of legend.
Kushwaha did not conceal his displeasure and said, "The JD(U) itself has for long been a BJP ally and, naturally, leaders of both parties have been friends. There was nothing unusual in my case. I see no other reason why Chief Minister Nitish Kumar spoke about me to the media, instead of talking to me directly."
Not joining BJP
Kushwaha has made it clear "more than 100 percent" that he will "never become a member" of the BJP. He, however, expressed anguish that even after nearly two years of the merger of his RLSP, "it appears people are not convinced that I am fully with the JD(U)". He said he was being "kept out of party functions”, like celebration of the birth anniversary of former chief minister and socialist leader Karpoori Thakur.
Also read: Bihar expert on Nitish Kumar U-turns: He was ‘increasingly suffocated’ as junior partner in BJP alliance
Alleging a "conspiracy" to weaken Nitish, he said he was ready to clear the air if given an opportunity. "Nitish Kumar can summon me for an explanation. A meeting of the party can also be convened. But I will keep raising my voice against any attempts to weaken the chief minister,” said Kushwaha.
He even said that he has been at the forefront of taking on Nitish's detractors, referring to RJD MLA Sudhaker Singh who has repeatedly launched caustic attacks on the CM.
RJD leader Chandra Shekhar triggered a controversy by saying that Manusmriti, Ramcharitmanas, and A Bunch of Thoughts (by M S Golwalkar) are "divisive texts" and that BR Ambedkar was correct in opposing Manusmriti. His statement came after a similar remark was made by Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Swami Prasad Maurya.
While there were calls for action against Shekhar, Parliamentary board chief Upendra Kushwaha alleged that the RJD could be trying to “further the BJP’s agenda” by refraining from taking action against the minister. This reportedly annoyed Nitish Kumar.
When asked about speculations that JD(U) and RJD diverged on the issue and there was a rift between the two allies, Nitish Kumar said, "An individual’s remarks, made in his personal capacity, cannot throw an alliance off the rails. I would request all to let bygones be bygones and not stretch the issue further".
'JD(U) has weakened' remark
At another instance, Kushwaha had said that "all people in the party agree in private that the JD(U) has weakened and needs to hold itself together", in an apparent criticism of Nitish's inaction at RJD's repeated attacks.
JD(U) state president Rajiv Ranjan Singh had dismissed Kushwaha’s snide remark that RJD's reluctance to act against Chandra Shekhar and other wayward leaders could be construed as a tacit bargain.
The Bihar Assembly election is due in 2025 while all eyes are on the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The Mahagathbandhan needs the magic figure of 122 to get the majority in the state Assembly which has an effective strength of 243.
(Edited by : Pradeep John)