Nitish Kumar has punished Union Minister RCP Singh, his one-time number two, by denying him a third term in Rajya Sabha. With this move, the Bihar Chief Minister has signaled that for now, he will have no one from his Janata Dal United (JDU) in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet – a sure sign that he is upset with ally BJP.
RCP Singh is the only JDU minister in the central government. He apparently paid for his proximity to the BJP and may have to step down soon as his Rajya Sabha term will end in June. “It is the Prime Minister’s prerogative,” he said today to questions on his resignation. “I will meet him in Delhi,” he added, betraying desperation.
He also said he was “grateful” at being denied a Rajya Sabha seat. “What he decided yesterday, I am grateful to him. Whatever he decided is in my interest. I have not done anything to date that should make anyone upset,” he said.
For Mr Singh, the writing was on the wall since Nitish Kumar started “ignoring” him, according to party leaders. A photo at a wedding, where the Chief Minister appeared to overlook the Union Minister completely and the two sat grimly with a leader in the middle, foretold bleak times ahead for the man who was once Nitish Kumar’s closest aide and the go-between for him and the BJP.
Mr Singh denied anything was wrong. “There is no difference with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on any issue. The nomination was from May 24 to May 31 and today there is a cabinet meeting. This evening I am going to Patna. From where do you people bring such questions,” the minister told reporters last Wednesday, fuming at questions over a rift.
Mr Singh finally got an appointment with his party boss last Thursday, after multiple requests, but it was a tense meeting. Nitish Kumar reportedly made it clear that his list did not include Mr Singh, even though it would mean the Union Minister losing his cabinet spot.
According to Nitish Kumar’s supporters, even though the Chief Minister handpicked Mr Singh as his party’s representative in the central government and conveyed the name to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, he appeared to do nothing right after that.
Mr Singh differed with the party line on a caste-based census; the BJP does not support it, but Nitish Kumar has set up an all-party meet as a first step towards holding one in Bihar. He has been blamed for the party failing to seal a seat-sharing deal with the BJP for the Uttar Pradesh election. He also stayed away from the campaign. Mr Singh didn’t vote in the legislative council elections. He also skipped Nitish Kumar’s Iftar party and arranged an Eid Milan event at his native village Mustafapur at the same time.
Nitish Kumar was reportedly also annoyed at his former lieutenant’s closeness with the BJP brass, including the party’s Bihar in-charge and Union Minister Bhupendra Yadav, whom the Chief Minister blames for the friction in the alliance.
Though Mr Singh’s being dropped was a forgone conclusion, the choice of Khiru Mahto, Jharkhand JDU chief, has intrigued even Nitish Kumar’s strongest supporters. No one has been able to decode why he would try to strengthen the party in neighbouring Jharkhand at a time it is floundering in Bihar.