Three months ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested to his ministerial colleague Upendra Kushwaha to consider merging his political outfit, the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The RLSP president did not respond to the offer then and instead immersed himself into the preparation of a rally in Bihar. That rally is expected to be Kushwaha’s response and counterblast.

“The rally will be our reply to Modi’s proposal,” said a senior RLSP leader. “We want to make him realise that we are more powerful and our support base is more widespread than what he believes.”

The event, to be held in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan on April 5, is being seen as Kushwaha’s show of strength, targeted more at his ally than at his opponents in Bihar, where Assembly elections are due in November this year.

As can be expected in such an event, the BJP is keenly watching RLSP’s Kisan-Naujawan rally. “A good rally will fuel Kushwaha’s ambition further,” said a senior BJP leader in Bihar. “It will give him an overdeveloped sense of his strength, which would make him even more rigid when we sit across the table for seat-sharing negotiations.”

Breaking ranks

On its own, the RLSP is hardly a force in Bihar. Formed in March 2013, the party is believed to have considerable support base among Koeris, an OBC caste that constitutes about 8% of Bihar’s population. Though in the last few months it has tried to gain strength by inducting a large number of disgruntled and ambitious Congress leaders, it is still considered a party of one caste in the political circle.

Last year, the RLSP entered into a pre-poll alliance with the BJP and contested three Lok Sabha seats, all of which it won rather easily.

Today their relationship is clearly not the same as it was a year ago. It is this change that explains why Kushwaha broke ranks from the National Democratic Alliance and condemned BJP leader and fellow minister Giriraj Singh’s racist remarks against Congress president Sonia Gandhi. “It does not behove a union minister to speak in such a language,” he told media persons. “It’s objectionable.”

It is also clear to everyone that the RLSP wants to fill the void created in Bihar after the exit of Janata Dal (United). But while Kushwaha takes himself too seriously, his saffron ally considers him a case of unusually bloated ambition. That is why the BJP is sitting idle on the RLSP’s demand that as part of the NDA it must be allowed to contest at least one Assembly seat in each of the 40 parliamentary constituencies in Bihar.

Keeping up appearances

Still, for the BJP, the RLSP’s whole-hearted support in the forthcoming Assembly polls is necessary to send out the message that the NDA retains the winning combination of 2014. Secondly, without the RLSP on its side, the BJP’s claim to represent OBCs in the state will look weak. Moreover, both the parties are aware that in a close race – as political parties expect Bihar elections to be – the Koeri vote will be vital.

For the moment, the two parties are keeping up appearances of unaffected friendliness. But the rumblings are getting louder by the day and the ties may sour if Patna’s Gandhi Maidan gets filled on April 5.