Upendra Kushwaha, who belongs to the Koeri community, was an important cog in BJP’s Bihar caste alliance of non-Yadav OBCs.
New Delhi: Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) leader Upendra Kushwaha’s exit from the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is likely to upset the Bharatiya Janata Party’s delicately woven caste coalition in Bihar.
Kushwaha is the tallest leader of the Koeris, one of the most influential Other Backward Classes (OBC) communities in Bihar after Yadavs and Banias. Koeris are estimated to constitute about 8 per cent of the state’s population.
Kushwaha’s exit will surely have a bearing on the caste alliance of non-Yadav OBCs that the BJP carefully crafted in 2014.
His entry into the NDA then was part of the saffron party’s larger plan to supplement its broadly upper caste vote-bank with non-Yadav OBCs and Dalits through alliances with the RLSP and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). The caste coalition worked for the NDA as it won 31 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar.
The BJP had stitched an alliance with the RLSP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and allotted it three seats. The RLSP won all three — Jehanabad, Karakat and Sitamarhi.
But BJP leaders reckon that Kushwaha’s clout in the Koeri community has considerably diminished and therefore, his exit won’t hurt the NDA much. His party won three seats because of the ‘Modi wave’ in 2014 and he can’t do much damage on his own, they believe.
Kushwaha’s diminishing importance
The ties between BJP and RLSP had been faltering ever since the former re-allied with the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) in Bihar in 2017.
Kumar had severed ties with the BJP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and went on to win the 2015 assembly elections as part of the Mahagathbandhan comprising the RJD and the Congress. After Kumar returned to the NDA fold last year, Kushwaha’s manoeuvring space within the NDA started shrinking.
Even as part of the NDA government at the Centre, Kushwaha was given an insignificant portfolio — Minister of State for Human Resource Development.
Matters came to a head during seat-sharing negotiations for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. While Kushwaha wanted more than three seats as his party’s quota in the alliance, the BJP was not ready to allot more than two, as it had to accommodate the demands of the JD(U) and the LJP too. RLSP leaders also suspected that the JD(U) and the BJP were trying to split the party to weaken Kushwaha.