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Steel Minister R.C.P. Singh's fate hangs in the balance of JD(U)-BJP relations

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Rajya Sabha MP R.C.P. Singh. File

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Rajya Sabha MP R.C.P. Singh. File | Photo Credit: Ranjeet Kumar

With just a week to go before the final deadline to file nominations for Rajya Sabha elections scheduled for June, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar continues to keep Union Steel Minister R.C.P. Singh's fate hanging. Mr. Singh is one of the three MPs in the Upper House whose term will end in July. The last date for filing nominations for the Rajya Sabha elections is May 31. The growing chill in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Janata Dal-United (JD-U) relationship further complicates the situation for Mr. Singh.

Mr. Kumar spent several hours at the party office in Patna on Sunday. On his way out, when the reporters asked him about the impending decision regarding the Rajya Sabha elections, he said, “Don’t worry about that. The announcement will be made at the right time.” Significantly, despite, speculations being rife in Bihar on Mr. Singh’s uncertain future, Mr. Kumar chose not to settle the controversy. Commentators both within and outside the JD(U) claim that Mr. Kumar in the last few weeks has been displaying “withdrawal symptoms” in relation to the BJP. To another question on the latest raids by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Lalu Prasad Yadav, his daughter Misa Bharati and the family’s residences in Delhi and Patna, Mr. Kumar chose not to launch into a tirade against Mr. Yadav. “Why are you asking me? Those who are conducting the raid may comment,” the CM said.

The political pot in Patna has been on the boil since last month. Mr. Kumar moved out of the Chief Minister's bungalow, 1, Aney Marg, to facilitate renovation. The Chief Minister's 17 cows were also shifted to new accommodation, even though their shed is some distance away from the main building. The previous day, he was seen at the iftar party hosted by Rashtirya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav, hobnobbing with Opposition leaders.

Steel Minister Mr. Singh, meanwhile, has been watching the events from a distance and has so far refused to comment on the delay in the announcement of his candidature for the elections. He will have to resign from the Union Cabinet if the JD(U) does not send him to the Rajya Sabha. And if, to save him, the BJP facilitates his return, then that will provide the JD(U) with a concrete reason to quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

This week, at a meeting of the party's legislators and Ministers, Mr. Kumar was authorised to take the final call. Mr. Singh's tenure ends on July 7. This was his second term in the Rajya Sabha.

Mr. Singh's induction into Narendra Modi's Cabinet in July 2021 had caused consternation in the party ranks. For the JD(U), which had rejected "symbolic representation" in the BJP government after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, to settle down for a single berth was a steep climbdown.

In 2019, the JD(U) was being offered two berths — a Cabinet position and that of a Minister of State. At that time, the Bihar Chief Minister and the party’s then national president, Mr. Kumar, taking the high road had said, “They [the BJP] said they want to give one Cabinet rank to every ally. Then we said that we will discuss it with party members and then only we can say anything over this symbolic representation. I spoke to my party leaders and the unanimous view was that we should stay out of the Ministry. Everybody felt there should be proportional representation in an alliance government.”

The JD(U) had then argued that the party should get “proportional representation” rather than a symbolic presence. The JD(U) had won 16 out of the 17 Lok Sabha seats it contested in Bihar against the 17 seats won by the BJP and six by the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) as part of the NDA. One seat was won by the Congress. Bihar has 40 Lok Sabha seats.

According to their calculations, the BJP has five Ministers from Bihar, so the JD(U) should proportionally get four. This time around, too, the party had demanded four seats. Mr. Singh was deputed to negotiate with the BJP in 2021, and to the dismay of many in the party, he sealed the deal for a single berth and took oath. There were no public congratulatory messages from the CM, who also did not attend the oath-taking ceremony.

The Steel Minister can draw solace from the fact that the JD(U) had announced Anil Hegde's candidature just three days before the final deadline to file nominations for the Rajya Sabha bypolls scheduled for May 30. Bypolls were necessitated by the death of the multiple-term MP, King Mahendra.

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Printable version | May 22, 2022 8:24:06 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/steel-minister-rcp-singhs-fate-hangs-in-the-balance-of-jdu-bjp-relations/article65447475.ece