The fight between NDA allies JD(U) and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) took a turn for the worse on Sunday, with both the MLAs of the RLSP reportedly offering to join the JD(U). With the BJP showing little sign of intervening, the RLSP is expected to walk out of the NDA in December first week. RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha, who has been openly critical of JD(U) president Nitish Kumar, said he had sought an appointment with BJP president Amit Shah.
RLSP MLAs Sudhanshu Shekhar and Lalan Paswan met top JD(U) leaders, including its national vice-president Prashant Kishor, and were reportedly offered a ministerial berth and the Sasaram parliamentary seat respectively. While Shekhar is the MLA from Harlakhi (Madhubani), Paswan is the legislator from Chenari (Rohtas).
Kushwaha said Nitish Kumar had “an expertise in breaking away MLAs” and had come after his party after having earlier split the BSP, RJD and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). “Nitish Kumar should know that just as taking and demanding dowry is a crime, poaching MLAs is as much a crime… I am seeking time to meet Amit Shah and will also speak to LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan.” Paswan is also an NDA ally.
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BJP sources, however, said Shah’s office was yet to grant Kushwaha time.
Since the JD(U) and RLSP share a similar social base, Kushwaha has been under pressure in the NDA since Nitish Kumar’s return to the alliance. The BJP reportedly offered the RLSP two Lok Sabha seats for the 2019 election, but Kushwaha is not ready to settle for anything less than four seats.
RLSP spokesperson Jitendra Nath said: “The nefarious bid of the JD(U) to wean away our MLAs shows Nitish Kumar is afraid of the growing influence of the RLSP at the cost of the JD(U)’s core votes. Our MLAs have been lured away. Everyone is watching the unethical game the JD(U) chief has mastered. Its repercussions will be seen.”
If the BJP keeps looking the other away, the RLSP may not wait even till December to break away from the NDA, said sources. Kushwaha has kept backchannels open with the RJD, and sources in the Lalu Prasad-led party confirmed that the talks were at a final stage and it was “a matter of time” before the RLSP became a partner in the Mahagathbandhan.
RLSP MLA Shekhar’s proximity to the JD(U) has been evident since the latter did not put up a candidate against him in the Harlakhi bypoll, ensuring his win from his late father’s seat.
Confirming that the RLSP MLAs could join them soon “and may be adequately rewarded”, a senior JD(U) leader said, “When Upendra Kushwaha is not able to retain his MLAs, how can he claim support of the people?”
The JD(U) has hinted at a Cabinet expansion soon, which could help accommodate Shekhar. As for Lalan Paswan, the JD(U) reportedly considers him just the right candidate for the Sasaram Lok Sabha seat, against the Congress’s likely nominee, former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar.