LJP founder Ram Vilas Paswan remains at the centre of intraparty politics eight months after his death. His son Chirag Paswan and younger brother Pashupati Kumar Paras, currently engaged in an internecine battle over the control of the party, are staking their respective claims to his political legacy.
Since Chirag is a new entrant to politics and is yet to prove his worth without his father, he has no option other than drawing political sustenance from the departed leader in the battle for supremacy. It is perhaps equally true for Paras as, despite his long political career, his electoral victories are mainly attributed to Paswan’s blessings.
Paswan was able to keep his family together, but the LJP imploded within a year of his death as Paras raised the banner of revolt against Chirag for his “dictatorial style of functioning”.
Paras’ rebellion came as a rude shock for Chirag as he was under the impression that there was no threat to his leadership. But it is not less than an irony that his uncle pulled the rug out from under his feet when he was sick.
After joining active politics in 2013, Chirag was made the party’s central parliamentary board chairman the same year. It was intended at sending out a clear message on succession and inheritance of Paswan’s legacy. He was elected LJP president in November, 2019 as Paswan’s health started deteriorating. Chirag was also appointed the leader of the LJP parliamentary party in the Lok Sabha.
Paras’ heartburn followed Chirag’s spectacular rise within the party. The battle cry reached the crescendo only when Paras and four other party MPs, including Prince Raj (cousin of Chirag), staged a coup against him. Paswan had formed LJP in 2000 by breaking away from the Janata Dal.
After revolting against his nephew, Paras alleged that Chirag was working under the influence of outsiders like his personal assistant-cum-advisor, Saurabh Pandey and former MLA Raju Tiwari. Paras even called Saurabh an anti-social element and said that he ‘saved’ the party as it was in complete disarray. He also claimed that Paswan did not approve of the friendship between Chirag and Saurabh, but he kept quiet as he was not keeping good health.
“How could I see my brother’s dream getting shattered, so I intervened,” Paras remarked, while justifying his action against Chirag.
Saurabh, however, has countered Paras by posting a letter, written to him by Paswan, on Twitter. In the letter written on the occasion of New Year 2020, Paswan has described Saurabh Pandey as his son and also as Chirag’s brother.
In the letter, Paswan has even written that Chirag, who entered politics in 2013, reached the pinnacle of politics in a very short time and that Saurabh has had the biggest hand in helping Chirag reach political heights.
Chirag as legacy claimant
Ditched by his own party MPs and also by BJP, Chirag has now started concentrating on presenting himself as the sole inheritor of Paswan’s legacy even as Paras too tries hard for it.
To strike the right chord with his father’s supporters, Chirag announced his ‘Aashirvaad Yatra’ (journey for blessings) on June 20, coinciding with the Father’s Day. The same day, he also held a meeting of the LJP’s national executive committee in Delhi.
In a tweet he said, “My father’s birth anniversary falls on July 5. My father and uncle are not with me anymore. So we’ve decided to start an ‘Aashirvaad Yatra’ from Hajipur the same day. The yatra will pass through all districts of Bihar… we need more love and blessings from the people.”
After the meeting of LJP’s national executive committee convened by him in Delhi last Sunday, Chirag also sought the blessings of his mother, Reena Paswan, saying the battle ahead is like epic ‘Mahabharata’. Chirag’s gesture is seen in political circles as his attempt to isolate Paras from the family further.
Will he turn crisis into opportunity?
After Chirag was ‘ousted’ from the top party posts, it created an impression that he remains a greenhorn, although he has won two successive Lok Sabha elections.
This impression only gained ground when the beleaguered Chirag tried damage control by visiting Paras’s house with an offer to give up the post of LJP chief, and instead let his mother Reena Paswan don the mantle. But he returned, empty-handed and crestfallen after waiting for his uncle for nearly 90 minutes.
Some analysts, however, have a different view on it. They say in hindsight, it only appears that Chirag did it all deliberately to project himself as a martyr in public eye, win some sympathy for himself and also put Paras in the dock for not reciprocating even as he wanted the leadership issue resolved amicably. Of course, it would be only naive of him if he really thought that his visit would break the ice when his uncle was bent upon snatching the party from him, they claim.
Chirag’s decision to undertake ‘Ashirwad Yatra’ will also help dispel the impression that he was not much prepared for the rough and tumble of state politics.
Despite the fact that Chirag had crisscrossed the state with his ‘Bihar First, Bihari First vision document’ before the state assembly elections last year, such an impression about him was created mainly because of his urban and suave demeanour. Chirag has the potential to emerge as a Dalit leader after his father’s death as he is young, energetic, a good orator and also a crowd puller, commented a BJP leader. But to achieve it, he has to spend more time in the countryside of Bihar.
Political analyst Dr Sanjay Kumar says Chirag’s yatra will definitely give some indication of people’s support that he enjoys post his uncle’s revolt. The LJP fought the election under the leadership of Chirag and got around 25 lakh votes in the last assembly election held after Paswan’s death.
“There are reports that Chirag has good support among party workers, leaders and Paswan voters in various districts. But it will be premature to say who would carry forward Paswan’s legacy. We have to wait to know it,” he said.
Paras has never been a mass leader and climbed the political ladder with the constant support of his elder brother. He was made state LJP president and was also given the responsibility of managing party funds and handling ticket distribution.
A low-profile politician, Paras could not leave much mark on his department after he was inducted into the Nitish cabinet in 2017. Paras is known for his proximity with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar — his major strength.
Paras will bank upon Nitish’s support to pursue his political agenda, said a political analyst. It is also widely speculated that Paras and four other MPs, who rebelled against Chirag, would eventually join the ruling JD-U in Bihar.
A political analyst said that Paras appears to be more accommodative in his approach as he was very much against his nephew’s no-holds-barred attack on Nitish Kumar in the state assembly polls.