Stung by allegations that he was "selling" tickets for Lok Sabha polls, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party chief Upendra Kushwaha on Wednesday said that the charge was "absurd" as the seats that his party would be contesting were yet to be finalized.
The former Union minister also challenged expelled RLSP leaders Pradeep Mishra and Nagmani, who made the allegations at a press meet on Tuesday, to prove the charges and remarked:
"I know who is their sutradhar (puppeteer). Mishra alleged that I took Rs 95 lakh for giving him ticket for East Champaran seat. Nagmani said I turned back on my promise and chose Madhav Anand for a seat as he had used his corporate connections to raise Rs 9 crore for the party. They are saying all this when even I do not know which seats, out of the 40 in the state, RLSP is going to get," Upendra Kushwaha said while addressing the media.
The RLSP chief also played an audio clip of Pradeep Mishra's press meet and said:
"You can hear him saying at one point that I sold him the ticket. In the same breath, he also says that he had given me the money for running the party and holding rallies. Now you try to make sense of this. They (Mishra and Nagmani) said that they want a CBI inquiry into this alleged bribery case. I want it as much as they do. The problem is, I have no authority to ask the probe agency to do so. The state government has. If the closeness to the chief minister they claimed to have been having while making the allegations is real, they must go ahead and use their clout to get the investigation ordered".
"I would only like to add, I know who is their sutradhar. I need not take names. You all understand this well and so does the public of Bihar," the RLSP chief claimed.
He, however, declined to take queries on his party's prospects in Lok Sabha polls, saying "we will discuss these things afterwards".
A former aide of Nitish Kumar, Kushwaha quit the JD(U) in 2013 and went on to float his own outfit, taking along members of the Koeri caste who have been dissatisfied with their under-representation in the politics of Bihar, despite being numerically superior to the Kurmis - the community to which the chief minister belongs.
He fought the 2014 Lok Sabha polls as an NDA ally and his party won all three seats it contested. He was rewarded with a berth in the Union council of ministers wherein he served as a Minister of State for HRD for over four years.
However, things turned sour towards the second half of 2018 when it became clear that in the wake of Kumar's return to the NDA, his party's standing in the BJP-led coalition was diminishing. He resigned as minister in December and joined the opposition Grand Alliance subsequently. His cross-over has been followed by expulsion of a number of senior RLSP functionaries on "disciplinary grounds" as the party has been struggling to keep its flock together.
(With inputs from PTI)