Patna: The BJP’s Satish Chandra Dubey, a former Lok Sabha MP, Friday filed his nomination papers for the bypoll to a Rajya Sabha berth in Bihar, necessitated by the death of noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani who was a Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP in the upper house of Parliament.
Dubey’s victory is certain as he is the sole candidate in the fray after the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav ruled out a party proposal to field vice-president Raghuvansh Prasad Singh in a ‘symbolic fight’ with the NDA candidate.
What has, however, surprised even the BJP in the state is Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal (United) giving up the Rajya Sabha berth to the BJP, considered the junior ally in Bihar.
“It’s the central BJP leadership and the Bihar chief minister who took the decision,” said Deputy Chief Minister, the BJP’s Sushil Kumar Modi.
But the JD(U) concession has led to speculation within both the JD(U) and the BJP that the chief minister, known to be a hard bargainer, may no longer be having the final say in NDA politics in Bihar.
“Nitishji is a hard bargainer when it comes to distribution of seats and rarely concedes extra seats to the BJP,” said a JD(U) minister. “We were sure that the Rajya Sabha seat will go to us and that either K.C. Tyagi or Pavan Varma (JD(U) spokespersons) would be given the ticket.”
The minister recalled that during the first JD(U)-BJP regime, Nitish would put his foot down and snatch seats from the BJP. In the 2012 Rajya Sabha polls for instance, the JD(U) ended up taking four of the six seats under the alliance.
Meeting that ended with seat to BJP
On Thursday, Kumar sat down with his close associates R.C.P. Sinha and Basishtha Narayan Singh to decide on a Rajya Sabha candidate. The meeting remained inconclusive and Basishtha had said that the JD(U) would take a call Friday.
But by Thursday evening, BJP’s Dubey was named as the nominee and the JD(U) announced that it had conceded the seat. According to informed sources, the BJP’s Bihar in-charge Bhupendra Yadav called Nitish staking claim to the seat.
Dubey is a former Lok Sabha MP and a two-term MLA with a controversial past, with cases of attempt to murder, theft and other crimes lodged against him.
He won the Valmikinagar Lok Sabha seat in 2014 by a huge margin but ended up being one of the five BJP MPs dropped to accommodate the JD(U) in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Dubey had threatened to contest as an Independent, causing serious worry in the JD(U) following which, Kumar called BJP president Amit Shah and requested him to speak to Dubey.
Shah, who was then in Bhubaneshwar, flew Dubey over in a chartered flight and convinced him to withdraw his nomination.
“Dubey agreed and withdrew from the polls,” recalled a senior BJP leader stressing that it was only natural that he would be compensated. By conceding to the BJP’s demand, Nitish has helped the party inch towards a majority of its own in the Rajya Sabha.
The changed political reality
Nitish for long has had the upper hand in his party’s ties with the BJP. In 2013, the chief minister snapped ties with the BJP over Narendra Modi being made the PM candidate.
Not a single BJP leader, apart from Giriraj Singh, then a minister in the Nitish government, dared to question his move. The BJP also swallowed the insult when Nitish called off a dinner to be hosted in his official residence for BJP leaders attending the party’s national executive in Patna. The Bihar chief minister was upset about an advertisement appearing in the local newspapers showing him with Narendra Modi.
But since 2017, when Nitish ditched the Grand Alliance and walked back to the NDA, the ground rules have changed.
These days, not just Giriraj but a number of BJP leaders take potshots at the chief minister.
BJP MLC Sanjay Paswan recently urged Nitish to shift to Delhi and leave the CM seat in Bihar to the BJP ahead of the 2020 assembly polls. More recently, leaders like new BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal publicly expressed his views disagreeing with Nitish that the flooding of Patna was a natural calamity.
The state BJP spokesperson Nikhil Anand even questioned Nitish’s statement comparing flooding of Patna with Mumbai stating that had the rainfall been as intense as Mumbai, Patna would have been washed out.
The chief minister, on his part, recently asked his followers not to pay attention to the statements of “such leaders”, insisting that the BJP-JD(U) alliance was intact and trouble free.
“Earlier, no BJP leader would have dared make statements that contradicts what the CM said. Nitish would have also brushed away the demand of the BJP for an extra Rajya Sabha seat,” said a JD(U) leader, wondering if the BJP would concede to Nitish’s demand to be the NDA’s CM face for the 2020 assembly polls.