While lesser known than Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar or Ram Vilas Paswan, Upendra Singh, like them, learned his political ropes from Jayaprakash Narayan and Karpoori Thakur. The boy from Jandaha, Vaishali, was taken by Thakur under his tutelage. During his graduation days, Upendra even stayed with the two-time Bihar CM, who knew his social-worker father Muneshwar Singh very well. In subsequent years, Upendra, too, would host Thakur at his Jandaha home.
After his master’s degree course in political science, Upendra initially became a lecturer at a Jandaha college. In 1985, he joined the youth wing of the Lok Dal. Nitish, a first-time MLA from Harnaut in Nalanda district, was his senior, and Nitish’s “method politics”, meticulous file-work, dress sense and preparation for any political topic left a deep impact on the young Upendra. On Nitish’s suggestion, Upendra added Kushwaha to his name, the caste identity helping boster his political standing. Kushwahas or Koeris comprise about 7% of the state population and are concentrated in East Champaran, West Champaran, Samastipur, Bhojpur, Aurangabad, Khagaria, Nalanda and Munger.
Kushwaha made his electoral debut in 2000 winning from Jandaha, and soon became Nitish’s blue-eyed boy. After the Samata Party merged with the JD(U) and emerged as the largest opposition party in 2004, Nitish made Kushwaha the leader of the opposition.
However, Kushwaha’s ambition eventually took him away from Nitish, finally leading to his expulsion from the JD(U) in 2007. While Kushwaha formed the Rashtriya Samata Party in 2009, successive poll failures meant he had to return to Nitish. In 2009, Nitish sent him to the Rajya Sabha, but differences surfaced again over seat allocation. In January 2013, Kushwaha again left the JD(U) and this time floated Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP).
When Nitish walked out of the NDA in June 2013, Kushwaha tied up with the alliance. In the 2014 general elections that followed, the RLSP won all the three seats it contested, riding on the Narendra Modi wave. Kushwaha was elected from Karakat and even became the Union minister of state in the significant Human Resource Development Ministry.
However, Kushwaha’s honeymoon lasted only till the 2015 Assembly polls, where the RLSP could win only two seats out of the 23 it contested. Nitish’s return to the NDA in July 2017 further diminished his value. When the NDA offered him just two seats to contest in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Kushwaha walked out. He entered the RJD-led Grand Alliance but drew a blank in the almost total washout of the Opposition in Bihar in that election.
This time, the RJD kept him hanging and the BJP offered him all of six seats, forcing the 60-year-old Kushwaha to seek yet another partner. He is entering the elections as head of the newly-formed Grand Democratic Secular Front, including the RLSP (contesting 100-plus seats), Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, BSP, and two other smaller parties. Pappu Yadav, who wanted to be projected as the CM face, didn’t find a place.
While Kushwaha is known as suave and a leader who takes care of party members down the ranks, he is seen as lacking the aggression and the charm that could translate his caste pull into seats. His education-reform plank earlier found no takers, he has failed to break Nitish’s Luv-Kush (Kurmi-Koeri) constituency, and failed to hold on to leaders like Bhagwan Singh Kushwaha, Ram Kumar Sharma, Nagmani and Bhudeo Choudhary.
At 60, short on ideas and options, Kushwaha may find himself out of time.
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