The “desperation” in the LJP camp is being indirectly linked to former party president Ram Vilas Paswan’s age. Paswan, the eldest minister in the Modi cabinet, will turn 75 next July, while the average age of the Union ministers is 59.63. The BJP has already denied tickets to several top party leaders such as LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Sumitra Mahajan during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections on the very ground that they were above 75.
The tension gripping the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), a key constituent of the NDA, obviously is that whether Paswan too could be dropped from the Modi cabinet after he turns 75. So, the way the party’s leadership has suddenly gone aggressive and is issuing conflicting statements could be a reflection of the obvious tension in the party camp, experts believe.
“This (the age issue) is something that will be discussed in the core committee of the NDA. We are not yet apprehensive about Mr. Paswan getting dropped from the Modi cabinet. We are a NDA-ally,” LJP’s national spokesperson Abdul Khaliq told The Federal over the phone on Thursday (July 16).
His “clarification” notwithstanding, LJP’s national president Chirag Paswan’s reactions in the past one fortnight have surprised the political experts.
First, he asked the party workers to be ready to contest elections on all 243 assembly seats in Bihar, saying that the shape of the Bihar NDA could change this time, and then he fired the LJP’s Munger district unit president for his statement to media that the “NDA is intact.” Now, Chirag has joined the opposition’s chorus for the postponement of the assembly polls, scheduled in October/November, citing the pandemic situation.
These are among the developments that have caused much embarrassment to the NDA in general and the BJP in particular in Bihar ahead of the assembly polls.
“LJP’s reactions could be pressure tactics to deter the BJP against initiating any such step (dropping Paswan from the Union cabinet), and the timing is very ripe too. The BJP wants to win the assembly elections at any cost and for that, it won’t like to create any trouble in the NDA,” commented political experts Soroor Ahmed.
According to him, Chirag is perhaps apprehensive about his party’s future after the likely-removal of his father from the cabinet. Apparently, he isn’t sure about replacing him in the Union cabinet. “Perhaps, that’s the reason he wants to expand his party base in Bihar, without which he can’t be in a position to bargain. And that’s possible only when his party contests the maximum number of seats,” Ahmed explained.
Another prominent expert said the BJP could initiate any step since the party is in majority and there is no threat to its government at the Centre. “A good thing for the BJP is that the Bihar assembly polls, if held on schedule, will be over by the time Paswan attains 75 years of age,” said political commentator DM Diwakar.
“But as far as I think, the BJP is simply guided by the ‘principle of convenience’ and it could change any rule midway the moment it foresees trouble in the alliance or the government, although their chances are remote,” he opined.
Many experts also connect the LJP’s over-reactions to its tactics to get maximum number of seats under the seat-sharing arrangement. In the last 2015 assembly elections, the LJP was given 40 seats, but this time, it is being offered about 20 seats only since the JD(U), which has returned to the NDA camp, now wants to have the lion’s share. This has caused strong resentment in the LJP, which is known for tilting the balance in favour of its allies.
But BJP leaders say they have been able to form their governments in Bihar even without the LJP’s support twice in the past — in 2005 and 2010. According to the experts, the BJP wants to stay in power in Bihar, but is not in a position to form government on its own. So staying in the company of the JD(U) headed by Nitish Kumar is its compulsion.
“If the BJP ignores Nitish, he could go back to the Lalu Prasad camp again, and that could spoil the BJP’s prospects. So the BJP just can’t leave Nitish for the LJP. Also, Nitish and BJP make a deadly combination of secular-backwards-upper caste votes, and the BJP has reaped rich political dividends in the past as well,” said a political expert.
According to observers, Paswan is also a smart politician having long experience in politics and has been switching sides at the opportune political moments. It is due to his hold over the people’s pulse that he has managed to become a minister in almost every government at the Centre since 1989 — from Left to Right.
That’s the reason he is jokingly called “mausam vaigyanik” (weatherman). The famous moniker was bestowed by none other than RJD president Lalu Prasad Yadav, who once said about Paswan, “Woh sabse bade mausam vaigyanik hain. Pusa-wala nahin, ISRO wala (He is the biggest weatherman; not like the one from the agriculture institute of Pusa in Bihar, but from ISRO).”
Paswan, who started off a legislator in late 1960s, made his debut as a cabinet minister in the short-lived VP Singh government in 1989, and since then he has been a minister in almost every government at the Centre — in the HD Deve Gowda-led United Front government, Congress-led UPA government and now, the Narendra Modi-led NDA government.