Patna: Former Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha quit the Janata Dal (United) Monday, a development that comes nearly two years after he merged the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) with the outfit led by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Announcing his resignation from the JD(U) primary membership, Kushwaha said he was launching a new political outfit, the Rashtriya Lok Janata Dal.
Kushwaha, who had been growing increasingly critical of Nitish, also announced that he will be seeking an appointment with the chairman of the legislative council to resign from his membership of the House, saying: “Zameer bechkar amir nahin banenge (I cannot barter my conscience for perks)”.
This isn’t the first time the leader has parted ways with Nitish’s JD(U) — the influential leader of the Kushwaha caste has had an on-again-off-again relationship with the Bihar chief minister, having left the party twice before in 2007 and 2013. He had launched the RLSP in 2013.
The Janata Dal (United) claims his leaving will make “no difference to the party”.
“Upendra Kushwaha has joined us three times and left us three times,” JD(U) national president Lallan Singh told ThePrint, adding that Kushwaha had been making frequent trips Delhi — an indication that he could be ultimately joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Despite his claim, however, Kushwaha could be a significant loss to the JD(U) — his caste forms a significant 6 per cent vote base in Bihar, and Nitish’s loss could be the BJP’s gain.
“As the situation stands now, the BJP could have two prominent Kushwaha leaders — Samrat Chaudhary and now, Upendra Kushwaha,” a JD(U) legislator told ThePrint. “There is not a single Kushwaha leader in the Grand Alliance who can match the stature of the duo. The second largest OBC block (Kushwahas) after the Yadavs will be more inclined to the BJP.”
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‘Nitish betrayed the people’
The latest source of friction between the two leaders is seemingly Nitish’s December announcement to effectively make Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader and Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav the leader of the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) in the 2025 assembly polls.
Since then, Kushwaha has made no secret of his opposition to the RJD scion, publicly stating that “anyone but Tejashwi” would be an acceptable choice. He has also been openly questioning Nitish’s leadership, even accusing the leader of having made a “deal” with the RJD when he returned to the Grand Alliance in August after dumping the BJP.
Despite these statements, however, the JD(U) has been reluctant to expel Kushwaha, primarily because of caste dynamics.
While quitting the party, Kushwaha said he rejected Tejashwi Yadav as a leader and that the leader of the Grand Alliance should have been from within the party.
“Bade Bhai (big brother, referring to Nitish) has betrayed the mandate he was given by the voters. Instead of seeking a successor from inside his house, he has sought one from the neighbor,” Kushwaha told reporters at a press conference Monday. “He (Tejashwi) represents the dark era of Bihar against which Nitish himself fought. I accepted his joining the RJD. But the leadership should have remained with the party.”
Impact on Bihar politics
Kushwaha’s decision to leave the JD(U) could pose a challenge to the Grand Alliance’s caste dynamics. When Kushwaha merged his party with the JD(U) in 2021, Nitish hailed it as the return of the ‘Luv-Kush’ alliance in Bihar — the coming together of the Kurmis and Kushwahas, whose ancestors were Lord Rama’s sons Luv and Kush.
The alliance was first 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.
Kurmis constitute 2 per cent of Bihar’s vote base and are largely confined to Nalanda district. Kushwahas, who constitute 6 per cent of the state’s vote base, are spread out in both north and south Bihar.
The two castes are members of the non-Yadav OBC grouping, are considered traditional farming castes, and are crucial to Nitish’s political survival. It was this 8 per cent vote base that has helped Nitish cobble up an impressive vote percentage for the National Democratic Alliance since the 90s.
Speaking to ThePrint previously, Kushwaha had claimed that when Nitish joined the Mahagathbandhan in 2015, his community voted for the Grand Alliance en bloc. But now, they are reluctant to vote for the RJD because of friction between the two castes, he said.
Three recent by-polls — the one in Mokama and Gopalganj in November and Kurhani in January — indicate that they could have switched sides to the BJP. While the RJD won Mokama, the BJP retained Gopalganj and won Kurhani.
“It is a worrisome trend, and even in Kurhani, where the JD(U) candidate belonged to the Kushwaha caste, they didn’t vote wholeheartedly,” a senior JD(U) MLA told ThePrint.
On the other hand, the BJP has been aggressively wooing the Kushwaha caste — it has been aggressively pushing the narrative that Mauryan king Ashoka belonged to the caste, despite the lack of evidence to prove it.
It has also been projecting Kushwaha leader Samrat Chaudhary as a prominent face in Bihar politics, appointing him as the leader of the opposition in the state legislative council. He’s also one of the top claimants for the post of chief minister for the BJP.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
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