When he was sworn in as Union minister last month after the Modi government Cabinet reshuffle, RCP Singh, then the national president of the Janata Dal (United), declared that he would abide by the decision of his party on continuing in the post.re,
“But I’m capable of discharging my duties as both Union minister and party president,” he said.
Nearly a month down the line, at the JD(U) national executive meeting Saturday, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar replaced RCP Singh, appointed as chief in December, with Munger MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh, better known as Lalan Singh.
This decision left some party watchers dismayed as they were betting on former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha.
“It does not confirm caste arithmetic. Lalan hails from the upper caste Bhumihars – a caste known for its hostility to Nitish Kumar and affinity to the BJP,” said a JD(U) MLC not wanting to be quoted.
What party watchers did not realise is that Nitish Kumar was not looking to fix caste calculations. “Caste is never a factor in my party,” Nitish claimed after Lalan’s elevation. He was looking for a hard bargainer with the BJP – a role RCP Singh was seen to have failed – and Lallan was the man.
‘RCP too close to BJP’
Despite his proximity with Nitish Kumar, RCP Singh has been considered too close to the BJP.
In February this year, RCP became the first non-BJP MP to make a donation – Rs 1.11 lakh – for the Ram Mandir.
The move is believed to have angered Nitish Kumar, who has remained aloof from the Ram Mandir issue on account of its sensitivity.
“RCP has never bothered to take into account what is on the mind of Nitish Kumar. When the controversy on a proposed population control law erupted and Nitish stressed on educating women as a method of population control, RCP as president never aired the party’s views akin to Nitish,” said an RJD leader.
Even during the present stand-off between the BJP and the JD (U) on the issue of holding a caste census, RCP has remained silent.
At the JD(U) national executive meeting in Delhi Saturday, the party passed a resolution demanding a caste census.
RCP’s failure in ministry expansion
When the Modi government was sworn in for a second time in 2019, the JD(U) wasn’t a part of the Union ministry, with the BJP’s formula of one-berth-per-ally leaving Nitish unimpressed.
During the recent Union ministry expansion, CM Nitish Kumar had made it clear that, as national president of the JD(U), RCP was authorised to negotiate the party’s inclusion.
Nitish had wanted two cabinet berths for RCP and Lalan, and two MoS slots to accommodate former Bihar CM Karpoori Thakur’s son and JD(U) MP Ramnath Thakur, and Santosh Kushwaha, another MP.
Ultimately, only RCP got in, leaving Nitish Kumar red-faced. “RCP did not keep Nitish Kumar in confidence while negotiating the deal with the BJP and did not even inform the CM that he was going to the PM’s tea party (before the expansion),” BJP MLA Gyanendra Singh Gyanu, who has been known for his close proximity with Nitish for over three decades, told ThePrint.
It took Nitish Kumar over a week to say RCP had become Union minister with his consent.
Lalan the tough negotiator
In sharp contrast, Lalan Singh has been a tough negotiator on behalf of Nitish. For one, he has been in the thick of things when it comes to seat-sharing.
In 2019, he made it clear that the JD(U) would not accept even one seat short of the BJP’s share in the Lok Sabha polls.
This led to the BJP and the JD(U) contesting 17 seats each, forcing the saffron party to drop 5 of its sitting MPs.
During seat-sharing discussions for the 2020 assembly polls, Lalan had a verbal duel with former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis, BJP in charge for the elections, and state BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal over the party’s reluctance to give away seats with incumbent BJP MLAs to the JD(U).
Lallan threw away papers and walked out of a meeting. The BJP came to the table again two days later and gave more than seven seats with incumbent MLAs to the JD(U), and Nitish’s party got to contest 122 of the 243 seats.
“Nobody in the BJP likes Lalan Singh – both at the Centre and the state,” said a BJP MLA.
Nitish and Lalan
Lalan was a minor JP agitation activist in the 1970s. It is his proximity with Nitish Kumar that is believed to have paid him dividends.
Few know that Lalan was the starting point of Nitish breaking off with Lalu Prasad.
In the early 1990s, Nitish, Lalan and a few more party leaders had gone to meet Lalu – the then CM of Bihar — at Bihar Bhavan in Delhi.
Lalu, it is said, gestured to Lalan to get out of the room, calling him a “cunning man”.
This triggered the creation of Samta Party – the party Nitish cofounded with the late George Fernandes – and the rest is history. Lalan became a Rajya Sabha MP once, and has served three terms as a Lok Sabha MP.
In 2010, he revolted against Nitish Kumar in light of the state government’s move to implement the ‘land to tillers’ policy.
But he was back in the party’s fold by 2013, becoming a minister in the Nitish cabinet. He has never had the reputation of being a leader even among his caste, but the 67-year-old leader is known as a backroom boy, a hard negotiator and a man who always reads the mind of Nitish Kumar.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)