Saturday, Dec 10, 2022

Bihar Politics: All Eyes On RCP Singh As Tensions Grow Between BJP And Nitish Kumar's JD(U)

Bihar Politics: All Eyes On RCP Singh As Tensions Grow Between BJP And Nitish Kumar's JD(U)

Following RCP Singh's resignation, Bihar politics has taken an interesting turn where a fallout between partners BJP and JD(U) cannot be ruled out.

RCP Singh Photograph By Sonu Kishan

Former Union minister RCP Singh resigned on Saturday after his party Janata Dal (United) questioned him on corruption allegations made by sections of the party.

In a 35-page report, a section of JD(U) had made a list of 20 properties that Singh and his family had allegedly acquired over the past decades, according to reports. Citing irregularities in the acquisition of these properties, the party had sought answers from Singh on a set of questions. In response to these questions, Singh resigned from the party.

After resigning, Singh came down heavily on JD(U) and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, questioning his working style and mocking his prime ministerial ambitions. 

A day later, JD(U) announced that it has convened a meeting of all its party MPs and MLAs on Tuesday, leading to speculation that JD(U) might be on the verge of parting ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its coalition partner in Bihar. The Congress party also convened a meeting of its legislature party in Bihar on Monday to discuss the evolving political scenario in the state. 

Notably, these developments come after months of tussle between BJP and JD(U), with observers noting for some time that all has not been well with the coalition in Bihar. Some have even called it an "unhappy marriage" borne out of political compulsions. Amid the BJP-JD(U) tussle, the section of JD(U) close to Nitish was also engaged in a tussle with Singh that culminated with his resignation on Saturday. 

For someone who was once considered not just close to Nitish but his number two, the fall from grace has been sharp for Singh. Here we retrace his political journey, his rise to Nitish Kumar confidante and JD(U) chief, and then his sharp downfall. 

Who is RCP Singh, IAS-turned politician

RCP Singh and Nitish Kumar share more than one common link. Both are from Bihar's Nalanda district and both are from the Kurmi caste. 

Singh was an Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer, who was introduced to Nitish when he was the Railways Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet. Nitish roped in Singh as his secretary and he would later go on to serve as his principal secretary when he became the Chief Minister of Bihar. 

The Print noted in an article that Singh and Nitish got along so well that when Singh's tenure in Bihar ended, he pursuaded the then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to give him an extension. 

"During his central deputation later, RCP emerged as Nitish Kumar’s troubleshooter while working as his secretary, especially in getting railway projects implemented in Bihar where a hostile Rashtriya Janata Dal government was in power," noted The Print.

Singh resigned from IAS in 2010 and formally joined JD(U). The party decided to send him to Rajya Sabha twice. 

Between 2010-22, Singh reached the pinnacle of his political career, rising initially to become the number two in JD(U) and then the number one — national president. However, the rise of Singh, particularly his closeness to the BJP and Union government, also marked his downfall which was heralded by JD(U)'s denial of a third Rajya Sabha term to him.

RCP Singh's rise within JD(U)

In his role as the General Secretary (Organisation) of JD(U), RCP Singh had a two-fold mandate — to strengthen the mandate and to deal with partner BJP.

However, in 2020 Bihar assembly elections, JD(U) could win only 43 seats, down from 71 in the last elections in 2015. The BJP, despite bagging 74 seats, kept its promise to making Nitish Kumar as the chief minister. This act of BJP, despite being the senior coalition partner, further bolstered Singh's place as he was managing ties with the saffron party.

Once elected as the JD(U) national president in December 2020, observers also wondered whether Singh is Nitish's heir in Bihar as Nitish had announced before 2020 assembly elections that it would be his last election. 

The Print noted that Singh's ability to mediate with the BJP, as he had grown close to the party during his organisational tenure, was key to his appointment as the national president.

"Now, he [Nitish] has selected RCP as the party president because he has unshakable confidence in the latter. The main issue the CM faces presently is having no leader who can mediate with the BJP top leadership...In view of this, RCP’s proximity with BJP central leadership made him the automatic choice as the JD(U) national president," noted The Print. 

The downfall of RCP Singh, fallout with Nitish Kumar

The script for RCP Singh's fall from grace in Nitish Kumar's JD(U) began to be written when he was still the number two in the party and in charge of smoothening the party's ties with BJP. That was when he got close to the BJP, which would ultimately cause his fallout with Nitish.

Relations between Singh and Nitish soured when Singh accepted a Cabinet berth at the Centre without consulting Nitish. His acceptance of a Union Cabinet berth was also in defiance of the JD(U) stand to not be part of the Union Cabinet's "token representation" as the BJP had offered only one berth after the 2019 general election whereas the party had demanded berths under proportionate representation.  

Soon after, Lalan Singh replaced RCP Singh as the party national president. That was the first act of reprisal. The denial of Rajya Sabha ticket to Singh, which also made him step down from his Union Cebinet post, was the final act, which rendered Singh a powerless politician. 

This way, Singh's very strength became the reason for his downfall. He was never a mass leader as he came from bureaucracy and was a nominated Rajya Sabha MP rather than an elected Lok Sabha MP. His rise within JD(U) was closely related to his rapport with Nitish. Therefore, his fallout from Nitish's good books also meant his downfall in JD(U).

The Deccan Herald noted, "When the union council of ministers was expanded in July last year, RCP Singh joined the cabinet without consulting Nitish Kumar. The Bihar CM was extremely upset and immediately sacked RCP Singh from the post of the party's national president. Since then, the relationship between the two has been bitter. Finally, Nitish Kumar has diminished RCP Singh to a political leader without any post and power."

RCP Singh's defiance of Nitish Kumar

Since the denial of Rajya Sabha ticket that made him resign from his Cabinet berth, RCP Singh has been vocal against Nitish Kumar and JD(U). 

The tussle had been brewing for months and the culmination on Saturday with JD(U)'s allegations of corruption in properties acquisition and Singh's resignation was the final nail in the coffin. 

On July 7, Singh alleged "witch hunt" within the JD(U) which he felt had resulted in many of his loyalists being sacked after the impression grew that he has ceased to be in the good books of Nitish Kumar, reported PTI.

Some other examples when the tussle between Singh and JD(U) came out in public are listed below.

Singh earlier this month said that he became a Union minister with the blessings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and that he rose in JD(U) with his sheer hard work. JD(U) leadership was quick to remind him that it was JD(U) that had sent him to Rajya Sabha twice and which made him party secretary and chief in the past.

Bihar minister Ashok Choudhary said Singh's rise in JD(U) was due to the "mercy or blessings" of Nitish. 

"He was made the Rajya Sabha member twice . It was all due to Nitish Kumar," said Choudhary. 

Recently, videos of Singh's supporters hailing him as the future chief minister also surfaced. The JD(U) did not take those videos kindly. PTI at the time reported that JD(U) National General Secretary and Nitish's close aide Sanjay Kumar Jha warned that those raising such slogans would be deemed as outsiders.

Jha said, "Nitish Kumar is the undisputed leader of the party. Those who raise such slogans will not be considered as members of the party."

The final confronation between the two sides turned out to be allegations of corruption in properties acquisition.

The final nail in the coffin

The JD(U) had asked RCP Singh to answer a set of questions on the properties he and his family had allegedly acquired over the past decade.

While the JD(U) claimed irregularities were found in the properties' acquisition, Singh told NDTV that the exercise was an attempt to humiliate him.

Dainik Bhaskar reported that JD(U) leaders have collated details of properties owned by Singh and his family in a 35-page report and have questioned the leader on it. They claim that Singh's conduct is in violation of Nitish Kumar's 'zero tolerance' policy on corruption. 

Nav Bharat Times has reported that the list made by JD(U) includes 20 properties in Nalanda district in the names of Singh's wife Girija Singh and daughters Lata and Lipi singh. 

In his defence, Singh told NTDV, "These properties were bought by my wife or daughters who are income tax payers since 2010."

Announcing his resignation from JD(U), Singh lashed out at the party and his once-mentor Nitish Kumar. Taking a jibe at Nitish's prime ministerial ambitions, Singh said, "He will not become (the PM) even if he were to be reborn seven times."

He further said, "Have you seen any other chief minister who wastes three hours every evening enjoying gossip over snacks with members of his coterie? He [Nitish] was a different man in his first term from 2005-2010 for which he is still remembered and respected. We used to tell him that he was a prime minister material and it seems that went to his head."

Singh also alleged that allegations against him were borne out of envy. 

He said, "There is no remedy for envy. Some people resented my induction into the Union cabinet. Those who had fought the last assembly polls as chief ministerial candidates of non-starter coalitions are now occupying the centrestage in the JD(U). The party is now finished. I am giving up my primary membership."

The tussle between the BJP, JD(U)

It has been reported for a long time that the coalition between JD(U) and Bihar was one of political compulsion rather than some mutual affection. 

The BJP does not want to leave the coalition, note observers, as it would mean that the BJP would be parting ways with third coalition partner in last few years. The other two being Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal. The JD(U) has its own reasons, such as its inability of project a successor to Nitish and the resultant dependancy on BJP.

The Times of India also reported that JD(U) and BJP will likely stick together because of political requirements.

"If Nitish agrees not to be the CM face in the next election, he cannot project any other JD(U) leader in alliance with BJP. In case, JD(U) goes with RJD, the party will split and many may prefer BJP to RJD. So, the alliance is in the interest of both JD(U) and BJP, despite political differences, they say," reported ToI, citing political analysts. 

Despite such compulsions, there have been signs in recent times that suggest that all is not well with the BJP-JD(U) coalition and that Nitish might indeed be on the verge of snapping ties. 

India Today lists recent examples that suggest the drift between BJP and JD(U). It noted that Nitish skipped the NITI Ayog meeting on Sunday, which was the fourth instance since July 17 when he skipped an event of the Union government.

  • On July 17, Nitish did not attend a meeting of all chief ministers called by Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
  • On July 22, Nitish skipped the farewell organised for outgoing President Ram Nath Kovind.
  • On July 25, Nitish skipped the swearing-in of President Droupadi Murmu.

These incidents, in addition to the long tussle between the two parties, suggest JD(U) might be plotting a move. 

"According to sources, the JD(U)-BJP alliance in Bihar is on the verge of falling apart. As most JD(U) MLAs are averse to mid-term elections, the party is eyeing tie-ups with the RJD, Congress and the Left Front to retain its hold on power in the state, sources added," reported India Today.

The Congress, RJD, and Left parties have already said they would support Nitish's JD(U) if he parts ways with BJP.