Although the Janata Dal (United)’s national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh has tried to bring a truce between the two warring party colleagues and MLAs, Leshi Singh and Bima Bharti, it could be only a temporary breather for the party which has been in a spot over their tussle for a long time.
Leshi Singh is a minister in the Nitish Kumar-led government, who holds the food and consumer protection portfolio. When she was inducted by CM and JD(U) supremo Nitish Kumar into his Cabinet after forming the Mahagathbandhan government last month, Bima Bharti had openly hit out at the party over this decision, alleging that Leshi had been facing various criminal charges including in murder and extortion cases. She also threatened to resign from the party.
Taking serious note of Bima’s public outbursts against Leshi, Nitish had then publicly reprimanded the former, saying the party would take action against her if she did not stop targeting the minister.
Both Leshi and Bima are from Purnia district and represent Dhamdaha and Rupauli Assembly seats, respectively. Bima had been a minister earlier.
Leshi has now slapped a defamation notice on Bima, seeking Rs 5 crore in damages for the allegations she made against her in public.
Hitting back, Bima said she has evidence to prove her charges, even as she also threatened to file a couner-defamation case against Leshi.
The two influential woman leaders have had a long history of conflict, even as the JD(U) does not want to lose any of them. Apprehending that sore with Leshi becoming a minister Bima might cross over to the BJP, the JD(U) leadership has made attempts to ensure that they bury the hatchet.
Interestingly, there are many commonalities between the careers of the two JD(U) legislators.
Both Leshi, 48, and Bima, 49, started their political careers in 2000. Leshi, an upper caste Rajput, has represented the Dhamdaha Asembly seat five times so far. Bima, who belongs to the Gangota (EBC) community, has also won from Rupauli, the adjoining Assembly seat, five times so far.
The husbands of both Leshi and Bima had been Purnia strongmen. Leshi’s husband Madhusudan Singh or Butan Singh, who was the Samata Party’s Purnia head, was murdered in 2000 that led to the sentencing of five persons in his murder case in 2015. Bima’s husband Awadhedh Mandal, a strongman politician who was earlier with the RJD, also faces several criminal cases and had once fled from the police custody.
While Leshi, who studied till Class 12, has always tried for an image makeover by reaching out to the people, Awadhesh Singh’s image looms over the political innings of Bima, who studied till Class 10. While Bima has assets worth Rs 2.20 crore, Leshi also has moveable and immoveable assets worth over Rs 2 crore as per her 2020 election affidavit.
“It is nothing but an ego tussle between these two Purnia leaders. Leshi being a minister has a clear edge over Bima in Purnia. This is what rankles Bima. She does not mind not being a minister but she does not want to see Leshi as a minister either. It is a battle of supremacy even though they are with the same party,” said a JD (U) leader.
While Leshi has been a minister several times, Bima had also been a minister twice earlier. In the current government, Bima could not be accommodated as the JD (U) leadership found it difficult to pick two ministers from the same district. This has however barely cut any ice with Bima, who is also playing her EBC card against her bete noire. The Opposition BJP has also tried to seize on it to corner the JD(U). BJP OBC Morcha national general secretary Nikhil Anand charged: “Bima represents EBC community and has been a popular leader. JD (U) has been trying to stifle the voice of an EBC leader”.
At a time when both the JD(U) and the BJP have been revisiting their social alliances in their bids to keep them intact, the tussle of one-upmanship between Leshi and Bima has snowballed into a larger game involving the two parties. The two leaders’ perceived winnability irrespective of their political affiliations and the caste factor have fuelled it further.