Patna: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is attempting to resurrect the ‘Luv-Kush’ vote bank that was mauled in the 2020 assembly polls, and in doing so, has also sent a message to ally BJP that he will not be a pushover.
The first step towards this resurrection came when former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party formally merged with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) Sunday, eight years after it was formed. The ‘Luv-Kush’ combination gets its name from Lord Ram’s sons, who are claimed to be the respective ancestors of Nitish’s Kurmi caste and the Kushwaha caste.
After much speculation that Kushwaha would either be accommodated in the ministry or given an important post in the JD(U), Nitish announced that he would chair the party’s parliamentary board.
“The decision to merge my party with the JD(U) has been taken keeping in mind the circumstances prevailing in the state and the country. It is the demand of the people that politicians holding similar views should come on one platform,” Kushwaha told The Print, stressing that he was a member of the original Samata Party founded by George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar in 1994. “My future will be decided by Nitish Kumar,” he said.
Upendra Kushwaha known for flip-flops
Kushwaha has joined forces with the CM after more than 11 years. He is known to be a highly ambitious politician who has not hidden his desire to become the CM of Bihar.
His political journey has been full of flip-flops, joining and quitting a series of parties like the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party.
In 2013, he formed the RLSP and joined hands with the BJP under the NDA umbrella. Then, in the following year’s Lok Sabha elections, his party won all three seats allocated to it, and became part of the first Narendra Modi government as minister of state for human resource development.
But since then, the RLSP’s electoral performance has been disastrous. The party quit the NDA and joined forces with the RJD for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls but drew a blank, and the following year, in alliance with marginal parties like AIMIM and BSP, RLSP, contested 104 of the 243 assembly seats and got another zero.
“The truth is that both Nitish Kumar and Upendra Kushwaha need each other. Nitish wants to revive the ‘Luv-Kush’ alliance and Upendra Kushwaha needs to be still politically relevant in Bihar,” remarked a senior JD(U) leader.
Party MP Bashistha Narayan Singh added that the JD(U) was Kushwaha’s natural home.
The ‘Luv-Kush’ alliance in Bihar politics means the coming together of the Kurmi and Kushwaha castes, whose respective ancestors were Lord Rama’s sons Luv and Kush.
The two castes are crucial to Nitish’s political survival, as they constitute 8 per cent of Bihar’s voters (Kushwahas alone are 6 per cent). Both are members of the non-Yadav OBC grouping, and are considered traditional farming castes.
The castes’ alliance was formed in 1993 at the Kurmi Chetna Rally, when leaders appealed to both castes to have a ‘beti-roti’ relationship. This became Nitish’s main vote base, to which other groupings like EBCs and a section of Dalits were added.
However, in the 2020 assembly polls, the Luv-Kush alliance crumbled. Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party took away Paswan Dalits and angry upper-caste voters, while RLSP’s Kushwaha base made it difficult for JD(U) candidates in constituencies dominated by the community, such as Jehanabad, Arwal, Nalanda, Khagaria, Jamui and Vaishali.
The RLSP only got 1.72 per cent of the overall vote, but JD(U) sources say even these votes were enough to ensure their candidates’ defeat in a dozen seats.
The result was that Nitish’s JD(U), once the ‘big brother’ in the alliance, won just 43 seats while the BJP won 74.
The struggle for a Kushwaha face was so evident after the polls that Nitish made a first-time MLA Jayant Raj a minister, because most of the party’s old faces had lost. And in Upendra Kushwaha, it is getting the community’s most recognisable leader, despite his inability to win many elections.
The BJP factor
The Kushwaha vote is also on the BJP’s radar — it has got a ministerial berth for MLC Samrat Chaudhary, son of well-known Kushwaha leader Shakuni Choudhary, despite resistance from his former party JD(U), and is now using him extensively to campaign in Kushwaha-dominated regions.
The BJP, thanks to last year’s poll results, holds the key to Nitish Kumar’s government, which has led the opposition to call for his dismissal for being “weak”. RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav Saturday marched to the governor’s house petitioning for Nitish’s dismissal, and said: “Nitish Kumar is at the mercy of the BJP. Bihar has never had such a weak CM.”
Since taking oath on 16 November, the fact that Nitish Kumar is no longer ‘the boss’ has surfaced repeatedly. He had to concede the assembly Speaker’s post to the BJP, then waited for three months before the BJP handed over its list for the expansion of his ministry. The issue of which party will have a say in the 12 MLCs to be nominated by the governor is also yet to be resolved.
Nitish’s silence on the misadventures of BJP ministers is much talked about in political circles. BJP minister Ram Surat Rai, for example, has been facing the heat as a huge quantity of illegal liquor was recovered from a school run by his brother, but Nitish has remained silent on demands for his resignation.
“Had it been his own minister, Nitish ji would have sacked him, as in the case of ousted minister Mewa Lal Chaudhary, who was forced to quit the day after taking oath because a vigilance case was pending against him. But since Rai is from the BJP, Nitish ji finds himself tied up,” said a JD(U) MLA, who did not wish to be named.
Another senior JD(U) leader added: “The party realises that to have a better deal in Bihar and national politics, Nitish Kumar has to emerge stronger, and for that, our own house has to be set in order. The merger of the RLSP is a step in this direction.”