Patna: The nomination process for biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha went underway in Bihar on Thursday with the Election Commission’s notification for six seats, terms of which would end early next month. Out of the half-a-dozen seats, for which filing of nomination papers will come to a close on February 15, three each are held by the state’s ruling NDA and the ‘Mahagathbandhan’, which has been pushed back to the opposition camp as a result of the latest volte-face by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the JD(U) president.
The MPs whose current term is nearing expiry are Vashishth Narayan Singh and Aneel Hegde (JDU), Sushil Kumar Modi (BJP), Manoj Kumar Jha and Ashfaq Karim (RJD) and state Congress president Akhilesh Prasad Singh.
Voting for the Rajya Sabha seats is scheduled for February 27. As per the established practice, while voting will take place from 9 am to 4 pm, the counting will be held on the same day from 5 pm onwards.
Given the current composition of the 243-strong assembly, the NDA can easily get three of its nominees elected, with a few more votes to spare.
Deputy CM Samrat Choudhary, who is also the state BJP president, has made it clear that his party will be fielding two candidates this time, in view of its superior numerical strength, while helping ally JD(U) win one seat. In the previous biennial polls of 2018, the JD(U), which was then the senior partner, had got two seats while the BJP had settled for one.
JD(U) sources have, so far, remained tight-lipped on the BJP’s aggressive posturing, awaiting signals from the chief minister, who is also the party president, and is understood to have discussed the Rajya Sabha polls with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others during his Delhi trip.
All eyes in the BJP camp would be on Sushil Kumar Modi, the party’s most visible face in Bihar for decades, who was allegedly stripped of the deputy CM’s post in 2020 because of his perceived closeness to the JD(U) supremo.
He was sent to the Rajya Sabha from a seat that fell vacant upon the death of former Union minister and LJP founder Ram Vilas Paswan, a year after the latter got elected in a by-poll necessitated by BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad’s debut in the Lok Sabha.
It would also be interesting to see whom the JD(U) fields for the lone seat it may get. Singh has been an old loyalist of Nitish Kumar who gave up the JD(U) state president’s post two years ago, citing ill-health, only to be back as the national vice-president after the de facto leader formally took over as the party chief.
Hegde has been a trusted aide, too, albeit low key, whose choice last year in a by-poll necessitated by the death of Mahendra Prasad alias “king”, regarded as a money-bag, took all by surprise.
Fundraising abilities had also earned a Rajya Sabha berth for Karim, who runs a private university and a medical college in his home district of Katihar. With the RJD again out of power and top leaders like Lalu Prasad and Tejashwi Yadav embroiled in legal wrangles, it remains to be seen whether Karim is considered for yet another term.
Jha has made his mark as the party’s most voluble face in Parliament where the RJD has no representation in the lower house. Whether proximity to the party’s proverbial “first family” earns Jha, who is based in Delhi, another Rajya Sabha term, also remains to be seen.
The RJD’s support will be crucial for the Congress, which does not have an adequate number of MLAs, to get anyone from its ranks elected to the Rajya Sabha.
Akhilesh Prasad Singh is considered as Lalu Prasad’s most trusted man in the Congress, which he joined in 2010. Singh had held a ministerial berth in the UPA-1 government from the RJD quota, but grew unhappy when the party dumped the Congress for a short-lived alliance with the LJP.
(You can now subscribe to our Economic Times WhatsApp channel)