On July 2, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) formally nominated Upendra Kushwaha for a Rajya Sabha seat in Bihar.

The vacancy arose after incumbent Vivek Thakur won the Nawada constituency in the 2024 general elections.

Kushwaha is the national leader of the Rashtriya Lok Morcha (RLM), a party he founded after Nitish Kumar left office as Chief Minister to join the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U).

His political resume includes working closely with iconic leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan and Karpoori Thakur, both of whom were posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna.

He is also close to Chhagan Bhujbal and Sharad Pawar.

The 21st century chapter of Kushwaha’s political journey is marked by two factors: championing the Koeri-Kurmi (predominantly Koeri) community and a troubled relationship with Chief Minister Kumar.

At Kumar’s insistence, Upendra started using Kushwaha as his surname instead of Singh, as it reflected his caste identity.

Ironically, Kushwaha’s differences with Kumar also boil down to the welfare of the community. In 2009, he formed the Rashtriya Samata Party, claiming that he wanted to give the Koeris their rightful place. However, he merged it with JD(U) that same year and secured a Rajya Sabha seat for himself.

In 2013, he left the party and formed the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP). This party contested the 2014 general elections with the NDA and won all three seats allotted to it.

Kushwaha was appointed as a minister of state, but he resigned from the post in December 2018. He also left the NDA.

After his party’s failure in the 2019 general elections and the two state assembly elections in 2015 and 2019, Kushwaha merged his RLSP with JD(U) in 2021. He broke the merger again by leaving JD(U) and forming RLM in February 2023.

The RLM had joined the NDA for the 2024 general elections with a claim on the Koeri-Kurmi vote banks. However, by the time Kushwaha rejoined, Kumar was back in the NDA fold, while the BJP had fielded Samrat Choudhary from the same community.

Kushwaha’s bargaining power was so reduced that he could get only one seat, Karakat, from the alliance. He himself participated in the contest there. His victory was considered certain because of the caste factor and the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

However, Kushwaha not only lost, but also finished a comfortable third, behind Raja Ram Singh of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (Liberation) and Pawan Singh, who contested the elections as an independent.

During internal discussions, RLM cadres accused the BJP of failing to control Pawan Singh, who was expelled from the party in May 2024. For the BJP cadre, on the other hand, the defeat was a sign of Kushwaha’s declining relevance.

Meanwhile, talks of Kushwaha’s affiliation with Tejashwi Yadav began to resonate in power circles. This was problematic for the NDA.

The BJP-led NDA included tall leaders of the Kuri-Kurmi community like Samrat Choudhary, Kushwaha and Chief Minister Kumar himself. However, a large section of the community rallied behind the Tejashwi Yadav-led bloc, especially in the Shahbad region (Arrah, Buxar, Karakat and Aurangabad), where the NDA was swept clean.

It is clear that Yadav has managed to keep Kuri-Kurmi voters away from the NDA by giving 20 per cent of the seats to a population whose combined share is 7.09 per cent.

He continued the onslaught by appointing Abhay Kumar Kushwaha as head of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) parliamentary committee in the Lok Sabha.

When the Kumar factor was neutralised, the JD(U) also played its hand by nominating Bhagwan Singh Kushwaha for the post of Member of the Legislative Council (MLC).

Ultimately, the BJP had to make two choices: accept that Kushwaha is no longer politically relevant, or accept that he is relevant but lost due to last-minute harakiri by former member Pawan Singh.

With Kushwaha’s nomination, the party seems to have opted for the second option. By aligning with Kushwaha, the BJP also opens a negotiating door against Kumar, as he also boasts of securing Koeri-Kurmi votes on the NDA side.

Amidst all this, Chirag Paswan’s uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras, a former minister during Modi 2.0, was the biggest loser.

It is widely believed that when he was asked to make concessions for his nephew Chirag, a Rajya Sabha nomination after the 2024 general elections was on the cards. It was a credible offer, as there was no other candidate in sight.

However, Kushwaha’s loss did almost irreparable damage to Paras. Between Paras and Kushwaha, the latter was a natural choice for the BJP.