All looked hunky-dory with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar till June when Union Home Minister Amit Shah asserted that Nitish Kumar will be its chief ministerial candidate. But little did anyone imagine that Lok Janshakti Party’s (LJP) posturing for better seat-sharing deal with the JD (U) will result in a rift within the alliance that too just before the polls.
The dramatic exit of LJP from NDA, days ahead of the polls, has breathed fresh life into the rumours that all is not well between the BJP and JD(U) – courtesy Chirag Paswan. Known so far as the son of veteran Dalit leader late Ram Vilas Paswan, and now as president of LJP, Chirag, despite an unsuccessful stint as a Bollywood hero, has successfully centered himself in the dramatic Bihar Assembly polls.
The two-time MP, who took over the party reins in November last year, instantly hit the headlines in 2020, through his jibes at Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Beef with Nitish
Chirag has accused the Nitish Kumar-led state government of having “anti-youth” thinking and promoting casteism and communalism, which have thwarted any development in the state. Holding Nitish Kumar responsible for the massive employment crisis in the state, Chirag has accused him of piggybacking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s success to stay in power.
A few days ago, Chirag clarified that his split from the NDA was not because of differences over seat sharing. Paswan Junior said the JD (U) had put his party candidates at a disadvantage in the Lok Sabha polls and a “haughty” Nitish insulted his father (Ram Vilas Paswan) when the latter requested his presence during the filing of nomination.
He has also accused Nitish Kumar of harming the Dalits by creating a sub-group of Mahadalits to get mileage, while keeping the Paswans out of it.
A vote cutter, liar or Modi’s Hanuman?
The angry swipes at Nitish Kumar, which started in March, culminated in Chirag pulling out of the NDA alliance, to fight against the JD(U) when his father was bedridden (senior Paswan passed away on October 8). What surprised many was Chirag’s unwavering support for the BJP, despite his acerbic criticism of the latter’s NDA partner – JD(U).
The exit of LJP — a step one wouldn’t have expected senior Paswan to have taken just before polls — and Chirag’s soft corner for the BJP are being seen as the saffron party’s ploy to cut Nitish Kumar to size and keep a prospective ally on the standby.
The BJP, however, has publicly rubbished any alliance with the LJP.
To put the point across, BJP leaders like Prakash Javadekar and Bhupendra Yadav have gone to the extent of calling Chirag a ‘liar’ and a ‘vote cutter’.
Chirag, however, has remained consistent in his devotion for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, having compared his loyalty towards Modi akin to Hanuman’s towards Lord Ram.
To show his support for Modi and achieve a ‘Nitish-free government’, Chirag has fielded only five candidates against BJP in the 243 Assembly seats. In contrast, the party has put up candidates against JD(U) and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM in 122 of the 138 seats they are contesting. Chirag says the decision not to contest against BJP was taken with the permission of the former with whom the LJP dreams to partner in government formation later.
In a tweet on Monday, the 37-year-old urged all Biharis to vote for BJP in seats left uncontested by the LJP.
The BJP, which has outrightly rejected any such claims, however, hasn’t ruled out a possibility of joining hands with Chirag post polls.
In a recent interview, Home Minister Amit Shah, when asked if there was a possibility of LJP returning to NDA, in a cryptic answer said, “we will see what the situation is after the elections,” leaving the meaning open to interpretation.
Bihar first, Bihari first
Hitting at the Nitish Kumar government over issues ranging from development, jobs to poverty and floods, Chirag’s party in its election manifesto ‘Bihar first Bihari first’ has promised the vision of an uplifted Bihar.
Linking rivers to end flood and droughts in the state, reserving seats in private schools for economically backward sections of society, creating single window system to encourage setting up of new industries, encouraging religious tourism and setting up a Youth Commission are some of the new takeaways of the manifesto.
Chirag has also promised a probe into corruption prevalent in the implementation of Saat Nischay under the Nitish Kumar government.
Reports say the growing unpopularity of Nitish Kumar, and an alternative to the NDA and the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan before the public, stacks the cards in Chirag’s favour.
The LJP has the support of the Paswan/Dusadh community – around 4 per cent of the population – in rural north, south and central Bihar constituencies.
According to a report in The Wire, youth under 35 – a majority of the state’s electorate – who would have voted for the Mahagathbandhan, may choose LJP as an option.
That apart, Chirag’s party, primarily pro-Dalit in nature has also attracted ‘upper caste’ groups who otherwise would have voted for the BJP if it had not joined hands with the JD (U).
The LJP has also fielded several former BJP members who jumped ship after being disgruntled with the NDA alliance.
Chirag, who has been projected as the LJP’s chief ministerial candidate, has also spoken about his aspiration to be a “BJP chief minister”.
That apart, several analyses quoting political experts say the death of Ram Vilas Paswan just before the polls, may also usher in a sympathy wave in favour of Chirag. Pictures of the 37-year-old lighting his father’s pyre, hugging his widowed mother on the day of the filing of nomination and hitting the campaign trail when he should be bereaving, may also soften many a heart.
Some experts, however, are not sure if the sympathy would translate into votes and garner a win for Paswan’s son.
“It is the social base enjoyed by the leader that defines sympathy waves,” NK Choudhary, a former professor of Patna University told The Print.
“Ram Vilas Paswan was a big leader but his social base was confined to one section of Dalits. There may be a consolidation of votes among Paswans and a few other castes that viewed him well. But I do not foresee a pan-Bihar sympathy wave. Paswanji himself never had the backing of all sections of Biharis and his son has a reputation of being a Delhi resident who makes fly-by-night trips to Bihar,” he added.
With two just days left for the three-phase assembly elections to begin, only time will tell if Chirag will emerge as the kingmaker or will just be a pawn in a twisted political game.