Rashtriya Lok Samata Party boss Upendra Kushwaha, the BJP ally in Bihar who is keeping his alliance partners guessing about his next move, made a startling claim on Wednesday. The union minister said Nitish Kumar had confided in him that he doesn’t want to continue as chief minister beyond 2020 when the state gets to vote for a new government.
“I am neither doing any politics nor I am making any satirical comment on the CM, but he (Nitish Kumar) has himself expressed his desire not to continue beyond 2020. I have ruled for 15 years. How long will I be the CM,” Kushwaha quoted Kumar as saying at a party event in Patna to mark Sardar Patel’s birth anniversary.
The union minister, who is in the middle of negotiations with his party’s three other allies in Bihar, added that Nitish Kumar had spoken with “a heavy heart” when he had spoken to him about his intention a few months back.
His claim, made at a programme organised by his party on the occasion of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s 143rd birth anniversary, came as a surprise as neither Nitish Kumar nor anyone in his Janata Dal (United) had ever spoken about any such possibility.
JD (U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar however brushed aside Kushwaha’s claim, saying Nitish Kumar was chief minister by “virtue of people’s mandate and the legislators’ choice”.
This is not the first time that the RLSP chief has raised the issue of Nitish Kumar’s future as chief minister. In July, he had questioned the logic of going with Kumar as the National Democratic Alliance’s chief ministerial candidate for the 2020 state assembly polls.
Kushwaha, who is apparently disgruntled with the NDA leadership for failing to get an assurance on a respectable seat-sharing deal for the 2019 general elections, also questioned the intention of alliance leaders in not inducting anyone from his party in the state government. However, he hastened to added that his party never hankered for any ministerial berth.
His statement on Wednesday, four days after his meeting with BJP leaders, is seen as a last ditch effort by the RLSP to bargain for more Lok Sabha seats in the state, than the three it got for the 2014 parliamentary election. However, according to some NDA sources, the RLSP will get two seats this time as one of its MPs has parted ways with Kushwaha.
After Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah, at a joint press conference with Nitish Kumar last week to announce finalisation of a seat-sharing formula, appealed to all allies to make sacrifices to accommodate the new partner, Kushwaha had said: “I respect his statement. We are ready for sacrifice. (But) all partners should share all benefits and losses. I understand that the alliance with the JD(U) has benefited the NDA. Then why can’t we share the benefits in Bihar?…Partnership should be equal in profit as well as loss.”
He had also created some controversy after meeting leader of opposition Tejashwi Yadav, hours after the press conference, but said no politics was discussed.