By denying Janata Dal (United) leader RCP Singh another term in the Rajya Sabha, party chief and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has put a question mark on the political future of Singh – the only JD (U) minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet. The move has also indicated unease in the JD (U)-BJP alliance in Bihar.
Singh, 63, whose Rajya Sabha term ends in July, looks set to lose the Union steel ministry portfolio. Singh’s name did not figure in the list of Rajya Sabha candidates from Bihar, released by JD(U) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Sunday. The JD(U), the ruling party in Bihar, instead, decided to nominate Jharkhand state unit president Kheru Mahto.
From Nitish Kumar’s lieutenant to proximity with BJP
Once considered Nitish Kumar’s lieutenant in JD (U), Singh has reportedly been punished for his alleged proximity to the BJP, the JD (U) ally in Bihar. Singh, however, has sworn by his loyalty to the Bihar chief minister.
Nitish Kumar’s association with Singh, a 1984 batch IAS officer of Uttar Pradesh-cadre, goes back to the 1990s. Singh was Kumar’s special secretary when the JD (U) chief was the Union Railway Minister. Singh was Kumar’s principal secretary when he became chief minister of Bihar in 2005.
Both hail from Bihar’s Nalanda district and are Kurmis by caste. Singh took voluntary retirement and was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 2010 and 2016. However, the relationship soured for the first time in 2018 when poll strategist Prashant Kishor was inducted into the JD(U).
The move, party insiders said, challenged Singh’s authority as number two to Nitish in JD (U). Kishor, however, didn’t last long in JD (U) and was expelled in January 2020. In December that year, Singh was elevated again and made JD (U) president.
Post 2014 general elections, the JD (U) stayed out of the first Modi-led Union government. But the party reportedly wanted two berths in the cabinet of the second Modi government in 2019. This didn’t happen. Then, in the Union cabinet expansion in 2021, Singh, who found his name in the cabinet, had forwarded his name without Nitish Kumar’s consent, upsetting the party chief. Since then, Kumar had been ignoring Singh. Clearly, the Rajya Sabha snub was no surprise.
Strained BJP - JD(U) ties
Of late, the ties between the JD(U) and the BJP have been strained, especially over the caste-based census. While the BJP has been opposing the census, Kumar had called an all-party meet for holding it in Bihar.
Singh, reports said, differed with the party line on census, among other issues. He has been staying away from campaigns and public meetings called by the party. He did not even vote in the legislative council elections.
The Bihar CM is reportedly even more annoyed at Singh’s proximity with BJP leaders, including the party’s Bihar in-charge, Bhupendra Yadav, according to a report. The CM blames Yadav for the strain in the alliance.
As per rules, Singh, whose Rajya Sabha term ends on July 7, has to get elected to either of the Houses (Rajya Sabha or Lok Sabha) in six months to continue as a minister. That he will continue for the next six months is unlikely. Singh has, however, said that he will seek Modi’s advice whether or not to continue in his cabinet.
“If he says I should resign, I will," Singh was quoted as saying in a report in NDTV.Cleary, the fact that Singh’s name didn’t feature even in the BJP list of nominations indicates that BJP doesn’t want to annoy the JD (U), its senior ally in Bihar.