Bihar: Why BJP Is Betting On A 'Loser' For Rajya Sabha Seat

Abhishek Kumar

Jul 04, 2024, 01:19 PM | Updated 01:19 PM IST

Upendra Kushwaha.
Upendra Kushwaha.
  • Aligning with Upendra Kushwaha opens up a bargaining door for the BJP against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
  • On 2 July, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) officially nominated Upendra Kushwaha for a Rajya Sabha seat from Bihar.

    A vacancy had arisen after incumbent Vivek Thakur won the Nawada constituency in the 2024 general election.

    Kushwaha is the national head of the Rashtriya Lok Morcha (RLM), a party he formed after his resignation from Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) or JD(U).

    His political resume boasts of working closely with iconic leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan and Karpoori Thakur, both of whom were posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna.

    He is also close to Chhagan Bhujbal and Sharad Pawar.

    The twenty-first-century chapter of Kushwaha's political journey is defined by two factors — advocating for the Koeri-Kurmi (primarily Koeri) community and a topsy-turvy relationship with Chief Minister Kumar.

    It was on Kumar’s insistence that Upendra started to use Kushwaha as a surname instead of Singh, as it depicted his caste identity.

    Ironically, Kushwaha's differences with Kumar also boil down to the welfare of the community. In 2009, he formed the Rashtriya Samata Party, claiming to give Koeris their deserved place. However, he merged it with JD(U) that same year and secured a Rajya Sabha seat for himself.

    In 2013, he quit the party and formed the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), which contested the 2014 general election with the NDA and won all three of the allocated seats.

    Kushwaha was appointed as a minister of state, a post which he rescinded in December 2018, along with quitting the NDA.

    After his party’s failures in the 2019 general election and the two assembly elections in 2015 and 2019, Kushwaha merged his RLSP with JD(U) in 2021. He once again broke the merger by leaving JD(U) and forming the RLM in February 2023.

    The RLM aligned with the NDA for the 2024 general election with a claim on Koeri-Kurmi vote banks. However, by the time Kushwaha rejoined, Kumar was back in the NDA fold, while the BJP had raised Samrat Choudhary from the same community.

    Kushwaha’s bargaining power was diminished to the extent that he could only get one seat, Karakat, from the alliance. He himself contested from there. His victory was considered a certainty due to the caste factor and the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

    However, Kushwaha not only lost but also came in a distant third behind Raja Ram Singh of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (Liberation) and Pawan Singh, who contested the election as an independent.

    In internal discussions, RLM cadre blamed the BJP for not being able to control Pawan Singh, who was expelled from the party in May 2024. On the other hand, for the BJP cadre, the defeat was a declaration of Kushwaha’s declining relevance.

    Meanwhile, talks of Kushwaha aligning with Tejashwi Yadav started to reverberate in power circles. This was problematic for the NDA.

    The BJP-led NDA contained tall leaders of the Koeri-Kurmi community like Samrat Choudhary, Kushwaha, and Chief Minister Kumar himself. Still, a large chunk of the community rallied behind the Tejashwi Yadav-led bloc, especially in the Shahbad region (Arrah, Buxar, Karakat, and Aurangabad), where the NDA got swept clean.

    Clearly, Yadav had succeeded in swaying Koeri-Kurmi voters away from the NDA by giving 20 per cent of the seats to a population whose combined share in the total is 7.09 per cent.

    He continued the onslaught by appointing Abhay Kumar Kushwaha as the head of the parliamentary committee of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Lok Sabha.

    Watching the Kumar factor being neutralised, the JD(U) also played its card by nominating Bhagwan Singh Kushwaha for the post of member of the legislative council (MLC).

    Ultimately, the BJP had to think along two lines: assume Kushwaha is no longer politically relevant, or assume he is relevant but lost due to last-minute harakiri by its former member Pawan Singh.

    With Kushwaha’s nomination, the party seems to have chosen the second option. Aligning with Kushwaha also opens up a bargaining door for the BJP against Kumar, as he, too, boasts of bringing Koeri-Kurmi votes on the NDA side.

    Amidst all this, Chirag Paswan’s uncle, Pashupati Kumar Paras, a former minister in Modi 2.0, became the biggest loser.

    It is widely believed that when he was asked to make concessions for his nephew Chirag, a Rajya Sabha nomination after the 2024 general election was on the cards. It was a believable offer, as another contender was not in sight.

    However, Kushwaha’s loss did virtually unrecoverable damage to Paras. Between Paras and Kushwaha, the latter was a natural choice for the BJP.

    Abhishek is Staff Writer at Swarajya.

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