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Will BJP replace Nitish with RCP Singh?

July 09, 2021 08:06 IST
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'Nitish Kumar was not happy about promoting RCP Singh.'
M I Khan reports from Patna.

IMAGE: President Ram Nath Kovind administers the oath of office to Ramchandra Prasad Singh at Rashtrapati Bhavan on July 7. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

Soon after being inducted into the Union Cabinet on July 7, Janata Dal-United National President Ram Chandra Prasad Singh thanked Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi.

'Pradhan Mantri Modi ke daryadili se kendra mein mantri bana hoon. BJP ke paas bahumat se jayada sansad hai lekin yeh PM Modi ka udarta hai ke unhone mujhe kendra mein mantri banaya (It is because of Prime Minister Modi's generosity that I have become a minister. The BJP has more than enough members in the Lok Sabha yet PM Modi has shown magnanimity in making me a minister).' Singh said after he took oath as a Cabinet minister.

Singh, a bureaucrat-turned-politician widely seen as close to the Bharatiya Janata Party, underlined his loyalty to Modi with this statement. His silence regarding his party leader, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, is telling.

Nitish Kumar, too, is silent about RCP Singh's elevation and is yet to congratulate the minister, though he condoled the demise of former Himachal Pradesh chief minister and Congress leader Virbhadra Singh, who passed away on July 8.

Insiders say RCP Singh, a Rajya Sabha member, was inducted into the Union Cabinet under pressure from the BJP whose strategy, it seems, is to eventually replace Nitish Kumar with Singh.

Singh joined the Cabinet via the JD-U quota; the JD-U, with the support of the BJP, is the ruling alliance in Bihar.


Till recently, RCP Singh was considered Kumar's loyal confidant and promoted from JD-U general secretary to JD-U president early this year. He played an important role in Nitish Kumar's decision to join hands with the BJP and form a government in the state in 2017.

A senior JD-U leader recalled how, at the last moment in 2019, Nitish Kumar decided not to join the Union Cabinet after the BJP rejected his demand for proportional representation.

"At that time, Singh was one of three or four leaders who would have represented the JD-U in the Union Cabinet. That made Singh unhappy, if not angry," the senior JD-U leader said.

After that, Singh slowly became close to the BJP leadership. Speculation was rife a few months ago that he might join the BJP along with several JD-U leaders.

However, the situation changed in 2020 after the BJP, with 73 MLAs as compared to the JD-U's 43, emerged as the bigger party in the Bihar assembly polls. Since then, Nitish Kumar has had no choice but to play second fiddle to the BJP.

According to JD-U sources, Nitish Kumar was eager that at least two to three party leaders be inducted in the Union council of ministers. "He wanted to send RCP Singh, an OBC (a Kurmi); Lalan Singh, an upper caste (Bhumihar); and Ramnath Thakur, an EBC (economically backward class). He was not keen on only sending RCP Singh as it would have sent a wrong political message about promoting his own caste, Kurmi," one JD-U leader pointed out.

But when the BJP made it clear that RCP Singh was the only acceptable choice, Kumar was left with no alternative. "Political compulsion forced him to accept RCP Singh as the JD-U's choice."

The JD-U won 16 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls while the BJP won 17 seats in Bihar. The BJP has four Union ministers from the state.

Political observer Satyanarayan Madan said the BJP knows Nitish Kumar is in no position to bargain; he is not as powerful as he once was and his brand of politics is expected to end sooner or later. Taking this into consideration, the BJP has been promoting RCP Singh, who hails from the chief minister's home district, Nalanda.

"It is wrong to project RCP Singh as Nitish Kumar's choice. He was not happy about promoting Singh as a Union minister. He was chosen because of pressure from the BJP, which has been dictating one term after another to Bihar's chief minister," Madan added.

Nitish Kumar, Madan pointed out, is known for playing symbolism in politics. When the BJP compelled him to choose RCP Singh, he suggested Lalan Singh and Ramnath Thakur as well. But, since he didn't really have any choice in the matter, this drama was played out for public consumption.

The 63-year-old RCP Singh's rise in politics, after he took voluntary retirement from the IAS, UP cadre, in 2010 and joined the JD-U, has been remarkable. He was rewarded by Nitish Kumar who nominated him to the Rajya Sabha the same year.

RCP Singh's relationship with Nitish Kumar is over two decades old. When Nitish Kumar became India's railway minister, RCP Singh was his personal secretary. Later, when Nitish Kumar became Bihar's chief minister in 2005, RCP Singh became his principal secretary.

RCP Singh is known for his networking and organisational skills and it is said the JD-U's financial management is completely under his control.

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