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Why Nitish is unlikely to expel Kushwaha from JD(U) & lose ‘core votebank’, despite widening rift

There's rising speculation of Upendra Kushwaha ‘being in touch’ with BJP, but if Bihar CM Nitish Kumar expels him, JD(U) runs the risk of alienating its Kurmi and Kushwaha votebank.

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Patna: Trouble continues to brew within Bihar’s ruling Janata Dal (United) with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar asking his party colleague and parliamentary board chairman Upendra Kushwaha to quit the party if he wants, and the latter retorting that if a younger brother leaves like this, relinquishing his share, then the elder brother will usurp the “ancestral property”.

This comes amid rising speculation about Kushwaha ‘being in touch’ with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) even as the latter seems to be watching the developments from the sidelines.

“I have not stopped anyone from going to any place he pleases. The JD(U) is growing strong and people might say whatever they want about the grand alliance government, but it is performing,” Nitish Kumar told reporters Wednesday. Kushwaha responded on Twitter, “The elder brother has spoken. If all elder brothers were to ask their younger brothers to leave the house, the younger would lose all his inheritance. How can I leave without my share?”

Kushwaha has reportedly been upset ever since Nitish has announced that Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu Yadav’s son and deputy CM, would lead the alliance in the 2025 assembly election, virtually declaring him his political heir. He said the JD(U) had become weak even after he merged his Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) with it in 2021.

Last year, RJD leaders also began promoting Tejashwi as the next CM. Kushwaha raked up the issue recently when, speaking at a press conference, he challenged the CM to confess to the ‘deal’  he had made with RJD after snapping ties with BJP. Kushwaha was never in favour of the party tying up with the RJD despite admitting they had similar ideologies.

Speaking to ThePrint recently, Kushwaha confessed he was not a part of the party’s national executive meeting held in Patna earlier in January. “I have not been invited to any party function and my name has been removed from posters and banners,” he said.

Earlier this month, he was admitted in AIIMS, Delhi, for a routine check-up. BJP leaders, such as former MLAs Prem Ranjan Patel and Sanjay Tiger, visited him there. While it was ostensibly a courtesy call, a photo of the visit went viral, prompting speculations within JD(U) circles that Kushwaha was reconnecting with the BJP. 

Once back from Delhi, Kushwaha made a cryptic statement, “Even JD(U) leaders senior to me connect with the BJP leadership.” That led to an instant hue and cry within the party. “Kushwaha is trying to destabilise the grand alliance government,” said JD(U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar to ThePrint.

Also read:  Behind RJD-JD(U) tensions, Nitish’s refusal to let go of reins. Key posts going to CM’s men

Why Nitish is reluctant to act

Kushwaha and Nitish have a love-hate relationship. In 2004, it was Nitish who made Kushwaha, a first-time MLA, the Leader of the Opposition in the assembly. But Kushwaha left the JD(U) in 2006 and hopped from one party to another until Nitish called him back and made him a Rajya Sabha member in 2010.

In 2013, he left the party again, alleging that there was no internal democracy and Nitish ran it like a personal front. He then formed RLSP and entered into an alliance with the BJP. 

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, his party won all the three seats it was given under the alliance and Kushwaha became the Union minister of state for education. 

After Nitish joined the BJP-led NDA in 2017, Kushwaha, then running his own RSLP, felt sidelined his demand for ministerial berth in the state or his choice of seats in 2019 Lok Sabha polls were overlooked even as the BJP seemed to be bending backwards to please Nitish. The JD(U) got 17 seats in 2019 polls when the party had won just two in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Kushwaha’s party was given four seats. The RLSP lost on all four.

In 2020 assembly elections, he formed his own alliance with the BSP and again failed to win a single seat. But in 14 assembly seats in south Bihar, his candidates managed to make a dent in JD(U) votes, leading to the party’s loss to RJD-led Grand Alliance on these seats. JD(U) called Kushwaha back to the fold and made him an MLC and it was widely believed that he would be projected as Nitish’s successor. But after the JD(U) and the RJD joined hands, Tejashwi got the spot.

Despite a poor electoral show, Kushwaha is a recognised leader of his caste — a section which is among the vote base of the JD(U). The December bypolls in Mokama, Gopalganj and Kurhani assembly seats — all with substantial Kushwaha votes — indicate that the Kushwahas are deserting the JD(U) and veering towards the BJP.

In Mokama, the RJD retained the seat but with a much slimmer margin. The BJP retained Gopalganj which it had won with the JD(U) support in 2020. It also won Kurhani, which was won by the RJD in 2020 but fell in JD(U)’s quota for the bypoll. 

The BJP has already projected another Kushwaha, Samrat Choudhary, as one of its prominent young leaders by making him the Leader of the Opposition in the state legislative council.

If the JD(U) expels Kushwaha, who fancies himself as a CM candidate, then it runs the risk of further alienating Kushwahas. “Our core votebank — Luv-Kush (Kurmis and Kushwahas) will be under serious threat,” a JD(U) MLC said to ThePrint

Kushwaha’s followers say there is no immediate offer from the BJP to join them. He may revive the RLSP and then go for an alliance with the BJP. Former Union minister R.C.P. Singh is likely to join him, a source close to Kushwaha told ThePrint.

As far as his likely equation with the BJP is concerned, Samrat Choudhary said to ThePrint, “There is no objection to Upendra Kushwaha joining our party. But if he wants to have an alliance, he will have to negotiate with our central leaders. Right now, we are just enjoying the show.”

(Edited by Smriti Sinha)

Also read: Socialist stalwart, mentor to Lalu & Nitish — looking back at the Sharad Yadav era in politics

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