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Kushwahas find leader in Upendra

The question over who leads the second largest block among OBCs in Bihar — the Kushwahas — appears to have been answered.

Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) chief Upendra Kushwaha has finally earned the title he had sought — leader of the Kushwaha caste, which constitutes 7 per cent of the electorate in Bihar.

“The Kushwahas have largely voted for NDA candidates in Bihar, except where Kushwaha candidates were fielded by rival parties. However, I do not claim to be just a Kushwaha leader. I have spoken for every caste, including the Kushwahas,” Upendra said on Saturday.

He has reasons to celebrate though. His party won all three seats — Karakat, Jehananbad and Sitamarhi — he got under the NDA alliance. He wanted to contest from Ujiarpur, a Kushwaha-dominated constituency, but was given Karakat, which too has a sizeable Kushwaha population. Upendra won by a comfortable margin of over 1.2 lakh votes.

He had fielded an unknown candidate in Sitamarhi. Ram Kumar Sharma, a mukhiya unheard of by even Sitamarhi residents. But Sharma won by a margin of around 1.5 lakh as Kushwahas backed him strongly. Nobody had assumed the RLSP would win the Jehanabad seat. The RLSP had fielded a Bhumihar, the same caste as that of the JD(U) candidate, while the RJD had fielded a strong Yadav candidate. And yet, the RLSP candidate won by a margin of over 40,000 votes. Upendra was also among leaders most sought-after by NDA candidates for campaigning.

The battle for the post of Kushwaha leadership had been on for over two decades. Among those who have laid claim to the post are former minister Shakuni Choudhary (father of Samrat Choudhary of the JD-U) and Nagmani, known for his frequent party-hopping ways. Nagmani’s claim to the post fell hollow when he revolted against the JD(U) leadership in 2009 and lost his deposit contesting as an RJD candidate. Shakuni lost the last Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, bringing to an end to his dreams of becoming a leader of Kushwahas in Bihar. Lately, his son Samrat has been trying to achieve what his father failed.

Ironically, Upendra Kushwaha’s political mentor was Nitish Kumar. He was elected to the Bihar Assembly for the first time in 2000 and Nitish made him Leader of the Opposition. But very soon Upendra fell out with Nitish and called him an autocrat. After holding a series of public meetings against Nitish, Upendra rejoined the JD(U) before 2010 and was awarded a Rajya Sabha seat. But the two again crossed swords over Nitish’s style of functioning and Upendra quit the Rajya Sabha seat to oppose Nitish.

After a stint in the NCP, Upendra formed his own party, the RLSP. He was toying with the idea of aligning with the RJD. But, luckily for him, Lalu Prasad rejected his proposal and the RLSP became the first political party to join the NDA just before the elections. “Today, Upendra Kushwaha has become a leader in his own right,” conceded a JD(U) leader.


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