with JD(U) (With fresh inputs) Patna, Mar 12 (PTI) Former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samata Party suffered a major split on Friday when more than 30 state and district level office bearers of the party in Bihar walked over to the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
The development came barely a day before the RLSP's scheduled meetings of national and state executives over the next couple of days which is expected to culminate in Kushwaha's announcement of return to the NDA and, possibly, a merger with Chief Minister Nitish Kumars Janata Dal (United).
The RLSP leaders who joined the RJD in presence of its de facto leader Tejashwi Yadav included state working president Virendra Kushwaha, state principal secretary general Nirmal Kushwaha and state head of womens cell Madhu Manjari Mehta.
Altogether 35 people from the RLSP jumped ship, most of them holding state-level posts in Bihar and in adjoining Jharkhand where the party has negligible presence besides district level functionaries, mostly from districts like Munger and Patna.
Tejashwi Yadav, the young but wily opposition leader who had an axe to grind against Kushwaha ever since he deserted the Grand Alliance helmed by RJD just ahead of the assembly polls, took the opportunity to vent some spleen.
Recalling the RLSP's protests against the Nitish Kumar government in the past few years on issues like education, Yadav quipped 'perhaps Kushwaha is now of the view that things have suddenly improved'.
Shortly after the press conference, Yadav came out with a tweet claiming that induction of the RLSP leaders was indeed a 'merger' of the party with the RJD after its functionaries 'expelled' its founding chief Upendra Kushwaha.
This was berated by Kushwahas key aide Madhaw Anand, who holds the twin posts of national secretary general and chief spokesman in the RLSP.
He said in a statement 'Tejashwi Yadav is rattled at the prospect of Luv-Kush unity in Bihar which would put paid to his hopes of grabbing power in the next assembly elections, after having lost the last one recently by a whisker'.
'Luv-Kush' is a reference to OBC Kurmi and Koeri castes.
Nitish Kumar himself is a Kurmi while Kushwaha is a Koeri.
Anand also asserted that the RLSP was 'intact and parties do not come apart as a result of desertions by some foot soldiers'.
A former protg of Nitish Kumar, Kushwaha had quit the JD(U) in 2013 to float his own outfit and aligned with the NDA in the 2014 general elections which the Bihar Chief Minister has contested while remaining outside the BJP-led coalition.
Riding the Modi wave, Kushwahas party ended up winning three seats and the RLSP founder was rewarded with a berth in the Union council of ministers where he served as the Minister of State for HRD.
After Kumars return to the NDA in 2017, Kushwaha was understood to have grown anxious about his possible loss of clout in the coalition and the RJD-Congress combine, which had already weaned away HAM president and former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, begun holding out olive branches to the RLSP supremo.
Kushwahas exit from the NDA, which also made him give up the ministerial post, finalized a couple of months before schedule for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls was announced.
The RLSP, like the rest of the Grand Alliance, flunked at the hustings but Kushwaha, who appeared to have burnt his bridges with the NDA in general and the Bihar chief minister in particular, chose to hang on.
A change of mind took place for Kushwaha in the run up to the assembly elections last year when Manjhi returned to the NDA, patching up with Kumar.
A return to the NDA seemed to have worked out for the RLSP by Kushwahas key aide Madhaw Anand but the Koeri leader drifted once again and ended up having a truck with parties like Mayawatis BSP and Asaduddin Owaisis AIMIM.
Kushwaha was projected as the 'Chief Ministerial candidate' of the hurriedly cobbled alliance though his party, which contested close to 100 seats, suffered the embarrassment of drawing a blank.
Post-elections, Nitish Kumar has been busy consolidating his hold over the Kurmi-Koeri-Kushwaha vote bank in the wake of his JD(U)s dismal performance.
The RLSP chief is understood to have sensed the mood and sent feelers to the JD(U) camp through emissaries as well as during his numerous meetings with Kumar in the recent past.
JD(U) patriarch Vashistha Narayan Singh, known for his straightforward temperament, has gone on record saying Kushwahas return was imminent.
The RLSP chief had, however, refrained from revealing his cards when asked about the same at the partys foundation day celebrations last week.
The hitch, according to RLSP sources, has been over whether Kushwaha shall be accommodated as an MLC and a member of the state cabinet or he shall settle for a key post in the JD(U) with a key aide or his wife Snehlata entering the legislative council and, possibly at a later stage, getting a cabinet berth. PTI NAC SNS SNS