Rift in NDA in Bihar? Upendra Kushwaha meets Tejashwi Yadav after BJP agrees to 50-50 seat-sharing formula with JD(U)

Patna: Union minister and RLSP president Upendra Kushwaha met RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav Friday, triggering speculation of discontent within NDA grouping in Bihar, hours after BJP chief Amit Shah announced a seat-sharing formula in the state for Lok Sabha elections.

A picture from the meeting, that took place in Arwal district, of the two leaders was shared by the RJD on its WhatsApp group, prompting many to believe the RLSP chief was not happy within the BJP-led NDA, though his party downplayed it as a "courtesy call".

"Public figures do meet each other often even if they do not happen to be allies," an RSLP functionary told PTI after the meeting.

Kushwaha's RLSP is a part of the BJP-led NDA in Bihar whose other constituents are Nitish Kumar's JD(U) and Ramvilas Paswan's LJP. Kushwaha declined to comment on what transpired during the meeting.

His meeting with the top leader of the NDA's rival party assumes significance as it came on a day Shah talked about a seat-sharing formula for the alliance and also said: "all four parties will remain part of the NDA."

On Shah's announcement of the BJP and the JD(U) contesting an equal number of seats, Kushwaha said, "He has not stated any number of seats for any party."

"It would not be proper for us to say anything on the matter until and unless...the number of seats assigned to each party is declared".

Earlier in the day, in New Delhi, Shah, joined by Nitish Kumar, announced the BJP and the JD(U) will contest an equal number of Lok Sabha seats in the state. Shah's statement does not necessarily imply that it will be a loss for the RLSP, Kushwaha said. "Shah did not specify any number while saying the two parties would fight an equal number of seats."

The RLSP dismissed speculations about discontent maintaining that the meeting — which took place shortly after BJP chief Amit Shah's press conference in Delhi — was "a courtesy call" by the RJD heir-apparent. "Kushwaha, in his capacity as a Union minister, had an engagement in Arwal. It was a coincidence that Tejashwi too had a political programme in the district and the two happened to be at the Circuit House at the same time," RLSP national general secretary and spokesman Madhaw Anand told PTI over the phone.

"I have spoken to Kushwaha after the meeting. He has categorically stated that no political meanings should be attached to the meeting. It was just a courtesy call. Public figures do meet each other often even if they do not happen to be allies," Anand said.

He, however, added "we hope that we will be getting more than three seats, the number we had contested and won in 2014 since our support has widened in the last few years".

Meanwhile, in a statement, RJD's national vice president Shivanand Tiwary said that by agreeing to an equal number of seats for both BJP and JD(U), Shah had shown "excessive generosity to Nitish Kumar while ignoring old allies".

He also cryptically remarked, "Nitish is like a Brahmin who will first satiate himself and leave the crumbs for Shudras and Dalits."

The comment by Tiwari, a former aide of Kumar, was an oblique reference to RLSP and Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP. The two smaller NDA allies are expected to be assigned a number of seats that may be less than what they had got in 2014.

In 2014 general election, the NDA san JD(U) of Nitish Kumar had bagged 31 out of a total of 40 seats in Bihar. BJP had won 22 seats while its allies LJP and RLSP had registered a victory on six and three seats respectively.

The disintegration of the Grand Alliance last year and the return of Nitish Kumar to the NDA fold forced a fresh look at the seat arrangements in the ruling coalition for the crucial 2019 Parliamentary elections.

JD(U) had won only two seats in 2014 when it had fought with the Left parties.

But, all along this tussle over seat-sharing in the NDA, his party leaders had highlighted the image of the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the state, which had in the past seen the coalition performing stupendously in Bihar, to demand a bigger chunk of seats in the upcoming polls.

Kushwaha, who owes his political prominence to Kumar, deserted him in the run-up to the 2014 election and allied with BJP after forming RLSP.

Kushwaha, who is Union Minister of State for HRD, is cut off with Kumar and in order to flex muscle has on numerous occasions either seen in company of Lalu Prasad's younger son Tejashwi Yadav and other RJD leaders or made comment like "Kheer" — obliquely referring about Yadavs (the base vote of RJD) — and rice (of Kushwaha caste, the base support of RLSP) — to leave NDA leaders guessing.

Besides Kushwaha's victory at Karakat, the RLSP had won from Jehanabad and Sitamarhi in last general election. However, Jehanabad MP Arun Kumar has rebelled against him and petitioned the Election Commission to recognise him as a separate lawmaker.

Updated Date: Oct 27, 2018 09:15:57 IST