It is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. Lately, Upendra Kushwaha, the rebel Janata Dal (United) leader, has sharpened his attack on his own party’s leader and chief minister Nitish Kumar. His criticism of Kumar has been to do with the fact that the latter is a “habitual alliance hopper”, referring to his joining hands with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) recently after snapping ties with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Political observers in the state believe Kushwaha neither has the locus standi nor the credibility to speak about Kumar, given that Kushwaha’s political career has also been marked by numerous instances of party-hopping.
At the same time, there is no denying the fact that Kumar has deservingly earned the sobriquet of being a ‘Paltu Ram’, described otherwise as a ‘U-turn man’, due to his record of shifting political loyalties from time to time.
But the problem with Kushwaha – who served as the Union minister of state for human resources development in the first Narendra Modi cabinet – is that he has changed his party loyalty so many times that it is difficult for anyone to keep a track of it. Due to this, he has been getting very little attention even though he has been raising some genuine issues.
Lack of credibility
In this era of changing loyalty, Kumar is not the first politician in India to jump ship and join hands with other parties/alliances. From the same Bihar, Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party had done so many a time. Paswan was thus dubbed as mausam vagyanik (weathervane) by Lalu Prasad Yadav to underline that he was adept at predicting the political environment and switching sides.
There is no dearth of examples of politicians conveniently changing tack and shifting loyalties. In fact, their numbers are ever-growing with the passage of time. The only difference in the case of Khushwaha is that he mostly happens to be on the wrong side while most join hands with winning parties or alliances.
For example, immediately after Kumar made a homecoming to the NDA on July 26, 2017, Kushwaha, who was then the Union minister, opposed him vehemently. He went a step further to resign from the Union Cabinet just four months before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Since then, he has been living in the political wilderness, as his party, the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), could not win a single seat either in the 2019 parliamentary elections or in the 2020 assembly polls.
In 2019, he joined hands with RJD and Congress, which now have become the target of his criticism. In 2020, he along with Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and former Union minister Devendra Prasad Yadav’s outfit formed the Grand Secular Democratic alliance. While AIMIM and BSP won four and one seats respectively, RLSP drew blank.
If there is one Koeri leader in whom Nitish has invested the maximum, it is Kushwaha. He was the leader of the opposition in the Bihar assembly way back in 2004, when he was a first-time MLA. As the plan was to form a strong Luv-Kush alliance (Kurmi-Koeri) combination against Yadavs, Nitish tried to promote the young Kushwaha. The latter, however, lost the assembly election from his own constituency in 2005 though the JD(U) and BJP won the elections convincingly and the NDA came to power on November 24 that year.
Kushwaha quit the party and held Nitish responsible for his defeat. He then joined the Nationalist
Congress Party in 2006 and became its state unit chief. Nitish sent Kushwaha to the Rajya Sabha in 2010, but the latter left in 2013 to float the RLSP. In 2021, he was made the parliamentary board chairman and MLC of the Janata Dal (United).
BJP not keen on inducting Kushwaha
Because of his past record, Kushwaha is not trusted by any party. Even a BJP spokesman, in a recent panel discussion on a television channel, made it amply clear that Kushwaha can come over to the saffron camp but will have to maintain discipline. Instead of rushing to welcome Kushwaha, the BJP is just using him to keep the pot boiling within the JD(U).
This is in total contrast to the position the BJP had taken in the case of Ram Vilas Paswan. When in the last week of February 2014, he suddenly announced that his LJP has no problem joining the National Democratic Alliance, the BJP immediately threw its door wide open and attached no condition on his entry.
The central leadership of the party embraced Paswan, notwithstanding stiff opposition from several party bigwigs from Bihar. They had dubbed him a corrupt and casteist leader who had promoted criminals. But it did not deter the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi from inviting Paswan to share the dais in Muzaffarpur on March 3, 2014, when the BJP launched its election campaign in Bihar. At least five BJP leaders, including Modi-loyalist Giriraj Singh, stayed away from this public meeting.
It is true that the BJP then gave three seats to the Kushwaha’s RLSP then, but he hardly got the
treatment that Paswan received. The saffron party was well aware of the importance of the LJP leader.
We are in an era when political credibility has lost all its meaning. Take, for instance, the fact that even a cadre-based party espousing the cause of Hindutva – the Shiv Sena – has been split for the sake of power. Therefore, it would be expecting too much from Nitish Kumar – a classic Machiavellian personality – to remain principled.
If Kushwaha is speaking out against Kumar, it is obviously because he enjoys the backing of some of the ‘upper caste’ JD(U) leaders, who did not like the re-consolidation of RJD. It bounced back in the 2020 assembly election, emerging as the largest single party. This was despite its ailing president Lalu Prasad Yadav being in jail. His son Tejashwi Prasad Yadav led from the front in the 2020 assembly polls though the party scored a duck in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll.
Nitish, who was suffocated in the NDA after the 2020 assembly poll, drifted towards the RJD. He agreed to its demand for Caste Census and led an all-party delegation to meet Prime Minister Modi in 2021 even when he was in the NDA.
Some JD(U) and BJP leaders are alarmed over the way he had ordered the Caste Census. This is bound to help the RJD, which under Lalu, has always been championing the cause of the backward communities. Lalu’s consistent opposition to the BJP has also helped the RJD to regain its lost ground.
Soroor Ahmed is a Patna-based freelance journalist.
Edited by Vikram Mukka.