After the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the HJC in Haryana, the BJP now has to contend with an ally in Bihar, a junior one, offering himself as the NDA’s chief ministerial candidate for the state assembly elections next year.
Union minister and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) president Upendra Kushwaha, on Sunday, set the cat among pigeons by offering himself as one best suited to lead the NDA to victory in the assembly poll due in October 2015.
The BJP leadership, Kushwaha recalled, had named JD (U) leader Nitish Kumar as the NDA's CM nominee in the 2000 assembly poll, when the JD (U) was a smaller party, and again in the October 2005 election, which the NDA won.
“So, why can't an Upendra Kushwaha be named the NDA's CM candidate this time, if the alliance has a better chance of winning the Bihar assembly poll under his leadership?" wondered Kushwaha, 54, while speaking to HT on Sunday.
Bihar BJP president Mangal Pandey was quick to reject his claim. “If the NDA wins, a BJP leader will head the next government in Bihar. Let’s all be clear about this”, he told HT, soon after Kushwaha had ‘staked his claim’.
Kushwaha, minister of state for rural development in the Narendra Modi government at the centre, is one of just three RLSP Lok Sabha MPs from Bihar whereas the BJP has 22.
An OBC (Koeri) leader, who was a JD (U) RajyaSabha MP before he resigned the seat following differences with party leader Nitish Kumar, Kushwaha’s chief
ministerial ambition was revealed soon after he joined the Modi ministry.
“When he visited Bihar for the first time after becoming minister, his supporters had gone to town hailing him as the future chief minister of the state”, recalled an RLSP leader.
However, the Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), the BJP’s other poll ally in Bihar, which has six Lok Sabha seats, sought to steer clear of any controversy on the leadership issue.
“The BJP is the senior partner in this alliance. Any decision on the leadership issue will be taken thorough consultation among all three NDA allies in Bihar”, said Pashupati Paras, state LJP chief and Ram Vilas Paswan’s younger brother.
Yet, now that Kushwaha’s ambition has been revealed, it spells more trouble for the BJP which is already grappling with a slew of the party’s own leaders which has gone public with the desire to become chief minister.
“More than a year is to go before the Bihar assembly poll and names of former deputy CM Sushil Modi and ex-ministers like Nand Kishore Yadav, Prem Kumar and Ashwini Choubey are already doing the rounds as possible BJP CM nominees. Now, we have Kushwaha joining the race”, said a bemused BJP leader.
The controversy over the NDA leadership comes at a time, when top Bihar leaders Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad have joined forces "to halt the march of the BJP".
The contending ambitions in the NDA, the BJP leader said, could only spell serious trouble for the BJP which had its task cut out in measuring up the challenge posed by the RJD-JD (U)-Congress ‘grand alliance’.
The JD (U) and the RJD-Congress combine had contested the April-May Lok Sabha poll separately but joined forces after being decimated by the BJP-led NDA in Bihar.
The JD (U) could win just two out of 40 Lok Sabha seats , down from 20 in the 2009 poll it had contested as a BJP ally. It fell out and parted ways with its saffron partner in June 2013, following a spat over Narendra Modi.
The RJD-Congress-NCP alliance won seven seats to the BJP’s 22 seats. Of the latter’s two poll allies, the Ram Vilas Paswan led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) had won six Lok Sabha seats and RLSP, three seats.
The 'grand alliance' facilitated a big morale booster for the constituent parties after their Lok Sabha poll defeat, when it won six out of 10 Bihar assembly seats for which by polls were held on Aug 21. The BJP could win four.
Differences within the NDA over the leadership issue, many believe, could only undermine its chances against the united rival forces in the Bihar assembly poll.
The ‘ally trouble’ in Bihar comes after the BJP parted ways with its Lok Sabha poll ally, Kuldip Bishnoi led HJC in Haryana over the ‘seniority issue’ and is locked in a battle of wits over this issue with its Maharashtra ally, the Shiv Sena.