Within three days of Upendra Kushwaha merging his Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) with the Janata Dal (United), the former Union minister was appointed the party’s parliamentary board chairman and nominated to the Legislative Council. This is only the second time the JD(U) has given a key post to any leader from outside. Last time, it was poll strategist Prashant Kishore who was made the party’s national vice-president.
With Kushwaha as an MLC, the JD(U) has now the option to make him a minister. The special treatment being given to Kushwaha is not without reason.
Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inbox
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who has turned 70, has been carefully nurturing his successor between party’s national president RCP Singh and Upendra Kushwaha. The Bihar CM will tread cautiously on balancing power between his two undeclared number two leaders.
While former bureaucrat RCP Singh has been a trusted Nitish lieutenant for years now, Kushwaha brings in greater leadership value to the party as the most important Kushwaha leader of the state.
After former Union minister Lalu Prasad and former Bihar deputy CM and sitting Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Kumar Modi, Kushwaha is the only leader to represent all Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, state Assembly and Council. With Kushwaha returning to the JD(U), the party has a national face other than Nitish Kumar.
Kushwaha’s return means consolidation of Nitish Kumar’s core constituency of OBCs Kurmi-Koeri, known as Luv-Kush in political lexicon. As the RLSP chief, Kushwaha may not have been able to win any seat in the last Assembly elections, but he did play a spoiler for the JD(U) by getting 5,000 to 39,000 votes in 30 seats. The JD(U) clearly suffered in at least a dozen seats in Magadh (Gaya, Aurangabad and Jehanabad) and Shahabad (Bhojpur, Buxar, Kaimur and Rohtas) and some North Bihar seats. As Nitish and Kushwaha share the same political constituency, Kushwaha taking away even a minuscule percentage of votes is damaging to the JD(U) in a tight battle.
The fact that JD(U) was relegated to 43 seats in 2020 polls from 71 seats in 2015 at the third slot behind RJD (75) and BJP (74), Nitish Kumar is forced to explore all options to strengthen his party. This is where Kushwaha’s return can bring him greater electoral value. With the Luv-Kush combination constituting about 10 per cent of the state’s population, Nitish looks to consolidate it and keep cultiving the EBC and scheduled caste constituency.
Nitish has been dropping clear hints of utilising Kushwaha for next year’s UP polls. It is quite possible the JD(U) would contest in some seats in Uttar Pradesh with a sizeable Koeri-Kurmi population. Kushwaha’s services would also be used to further expand JD(U) base within and outside Bihar.
Though it is too early to predict if Kushwaha could be the JD(U) CM face for the 2025 Assembly polls, it would all depend on how he conducts himself and curbs his off-the-cuff remarks. He also needs to refrain from making controversial statements. Kushwaha very well knows that the return to JD(U) is his last political gambit. He understands Nitish needs him as much he needs Nitish. He also knows that it is always tough for Nitish to make a choice between him and RCP Singh when it comes to succession. Kushwaha clearly has an edge in terms of leadership quotient over RCP. But there would always be a thin line between the two number twos of Nitish.
Kushwaha, who had started his political career under former CM Karpoori Thakur, had become Nitish Kumar’s blue-eyed boy when he was made leader of Opposition in Bihar Legislative Assembly in 2004 replacing BJP’s Sushil Kumar Modi. Kushwaha had fallen out with Nitish in 2007 but had returned to the JD(U) in 2009 only to quit it in 2013. Kushwaha had floated RLSP in 2013 and contested and won all three seats as an NDA ally in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. In 2015 Assembly polls, RLSP won only two seats and somehow lost its political bargaining. He drew a blank in the 2019 Lok Sabha as a Grand Alliance constituent and exited it for 2020 polls. Again, he didn’t win any seat.