Five Rajya Sabha seats from Bihar will fall vacant in July but the hard choices facing the leadership of various parties is already clear.
Lalu Prasad’s wife Rabri Devi and daughter Misa Bharti are frontrunners from the RJD, which has two seats available but three more contenders in Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Jagdanand Singh and Manoj Jha.
Though all five outgoing MPs belong to the JD(U) — Sharad Yadav, K C Tyagi, Pawan Verma, Ghulam Rasool Baliyawi and R C P Singh — the party’s current assembly strength is enough for only two Rajya Sabha seats. The contest is among Sharad Yadav, Tyagi, Verma and Prashant Kishor, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s publicity manager.
The BJP is assured of winning one seat, with Sushil Modi and Shahnawaz Hussain the main contenders.
In the assembly of 243, a Rajya Sabha candidate needs the votes of 41 MLAs. The RJD and the JD(U) are strong enough to elect two MPs each, backed by the Congress’s 27 MLAs.
RJD: 80 MLAs = 2 RS seats
Contenders: Rabri Devi, Misa Bharti, Raghuvansh P Singh, Jagdanand Singh, Manoj Jha
There has been a pitch within the RJD to elevate Misa, who unsuccessfully contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. After her two younger brothers won their assembly seats and went on to become deputy CM and road construction minister, former minister Ilyas Hussain suggested she be made the state chief of the RJD. Now that they see an opening in the Rajya Sabha, her backers want her there.
Misa’s mother Rabri, currently a member of the Bihar Legislative Council, is another strong contender after she too lost her Lok Sabha election. What might go against mother and daughter together is the possibility that not both RJD nominees will be from Lalu’s family.
“Though conventional logic suggests that both Rabri and Misa can be sent to the Rajya Sabha, there could be an opening for one of at least three contenders from outside the family,” said an RJD source.
Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Jagdanand Singh are former MPs with considerable influence in the RJD while Manoj Jha, the party’s national spokesperson, has Lalu’s trust. At a function renominating Ramchandra Purve as the party’s state chief, Lalu praised Jha, fuelling speculation that the latter is in contention for the Rajya Sabha.
If Lalu manages to send only one member to the Upper House, he will have to make the tough choice between his wife and daughter.
“Both Lalu and Nitish face a tough choice for at least one seat each,” said a JD(U) source. “Lalu will have to choose between both-in-the-family and one non-family MP for the sake of balance. Nitish will have to choose between Prashant Kishor and any one of the senior MPs whose terms are ending.”
JD(U): 73 MLAs = 2 RS seats
Contenders: Sharad Yadav, K C Tyagi, R C P Singh, Pawan Verma, Prashant Kishor
Sharad Yadav, the party’s national president, looks the most likely to be renominated among the five outgoing MPs. Nitish’s choice, therefore, is as wide as one other candidate from three outgoing MPs and Kishor.
“Prashant Kishor stands a strong chance after his immense contribution to the assembly poll victory. But then, such things are decided in the final moments,” said the JD(U) source. “At present, Kishor has been given the task of forming an alliance with AIUDF leader Badruddin Ajmal in Assam for the elections in April-May.”
Tyagi, R C P Singh and Verma, meanwhile, have looked as if they are in competition to project their leader Nitish Kumar as the centre of anti-Narendra Modi politics on the national stage. Tyagi, who went to the extent of describing Nitish as PM material and upset Lalu with that remark, has been particularly visible of late. He and R C P Singh visited Varanasi recently to attend a forum in support of activist Hardik Patel and explore possible alliances in UP, which votes in 2017.
One name newly prominent within the JD(U) is the CM’s son Nishant, whose posters were put up at a New Year function in Kalyanbigha. “Just a gesture to welcome the CM’s family,” a JD(U) leader clarified. “There is no reason to look for any political meaning in it.” Nitish has kept his family out of politics so far. Nishant, an engineer, and Satish Kumar, his elder brother, live with their father at 7 Circular Road, Patna. Nishant’s most recent public outing was at Nitish’s swearing-in in November.
BJP+: 58 MLAs = 1 RS seat
Contenders: Sushil Modi, Shahnawaz Hussain
Shanawaz Hussain, former MP from Bhagalpur, lost his last Lok Sabha election and missed out on a Rajya Sabha seat when the BJP sent M J Akbar from Jharkhand. For the BJP, the choice is between accommodating Shahnawaz and getting Sushil Modi in Delhi for a possible larger role.
Sushil Modi is Leader of the Opposition in the Bihar Legislative Council, a position of very little import for a leader who was the BJP’s undeclared chief ministerial face and addressed 180 rallies during the poll campaign. For a leader who headed the empowered committee on GST of state finance ministers during the UPA regime, central BJP leaders are said to be considering how his work could be utilised at the Centre, especially in light of the fact that the Union cabinet is expected to be expanded. The BJP has little at stake in Bihar politics with the Lalu-Nitish combine in power.
“Shahnawaz Hussain and Sushil Modi are both possibilities,” said a BJP leader. “But there is a lot of time for the Rajya Sabha nominations and there could be a complete overhaul of the state BJP.”