Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) sprung a surprise on Sunday when it announced the name of a less-fancied leader for the Rajya Sabha polls in the state, snubbing its former national president and Union minister RCP Singh, whose tenure in the Upper House expires soon.
JD(U) national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan and parliamentary board chief Upendra Kushwaha asserted that the candidature of Kheeru Mahto, the Jharkhand unit chief of the party, was approved by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who had been authorised to take the call.
“The decision, indeed, is in line with our party’s strategy to expand its base beyond Bihar,” they said.
Notably, only last week the party sent Anil Hegde, a veteran office-bearer who hailed from Karnataka and known for keeping a low profile, to the Rajya Sabha in a by-election necessitated by the death of a JD(U) MP.
Mahto, who was made the Jharkhand unit president a year ago, had also won the Mandu seat for the party in the 2005 assembly polls.
Asked what will be the fate of RCP Singh as a minister in the Union cabinet, the JD(U) leaders remarked cryptically “we have nothing to say in the matter. It is the prime minister’s prerogative”.
A former IAS officer who rose to the post of the national president within a decade of joining the party, RCP Singh was inducted into the Union cabinet only last year. Known by his initials ‘RCP’ in political circles, he has been a trusted aide of the Bihar chief minister, who, however, is said to have grown indifferent towards his former protege of late because of a number of reasons, which include his inability to get along with other senior leaders in the JD(U).
However, Lalan and Kushwaha dismissed suggestions that RCP had been denied a third consecutive term on account of a “factional feud” and said “he has been a respected member of the party and will continue to be so”.
The bureaucrat-turned-politician, who seems to have been left in the lurch by his party, was not immediately available for comments.
The Union Minister of State for Steel had recently sought to repudiate the impression that he did not get along well with his party colleagues. He had also scoffed at speculations that Kumar was unhappy over RCP having got inducted into the Union cabinet “without approval”.
“If some people think it is possible for anybody in JD(U) to land a ministerial berth without the nod from the CM, our de facto leader, they should try their luck,” RCP Singh had told reporters sarcastically.
He must, however, get re-elected to either house of the Parliament within six months of expiry of his Rajya Sabha term on July 1, to enjoy an uninterrupted run at the Centre. Biennial elections are underway for five Rajya Sabha seats in the state. Of these, going by their respective numerical strength in the assembly, the JD(U) will have to settle with one seat, while its ally BJP and opponent RJD will be grabbing two each.
The BJP came out with names of its candidates barely an hour before the JD(U) did. The saffron party has decided to back Satish Chandra Dubey, its former MP from the Valmiki Nangar Lok Sabha seat, for another term in the Upper House, where he was accommodated shortly after the 2019 general elections in which his constituency had gone to the JD(U).
However, in a surprising move, the BJP chose Shambhu Sharan Patel, its state unit secretary, for the second seat. The party, by fielding Dubey and Patel, a Brahmin and an OBC, respectively, seems to have kept social engineering in mind.
All the three NDA candidates are expected to file their nomination papers in the next couple of days. The last date for filing of nominations is May 31.
From the RJD, party supremo Lalu Prasad’s eldest daughter Misa Bharti and former MLA Faiyaz Ahmed have already filed their nomination papers. While Bharti will be standing for her second consecutive term, Ahmed will be making his parliamentary debut.