NAGPUR, Maharashtra: The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), led by Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s son Chirag Paswan, announced on Sunday that it would contest the upcoming Bihar election on its own. The decision does not come as a surprise—since the beginning of this year, Chirag has dropped enough hints that he wasn’t happy with the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United).
Chirag’s body language after announcing the split suggests that the Dalit leader’s decision was a tactical move.
“It’s a day of great rejoicing for the party,” an upbeat Chirag told reporters after announcing his party’s decision in Delhi. He also met his uncle and Lok Sabha MP Pashupati Paras to seek his blessings. In Patna, LJP workers celebrated their leader’s move and raised the slogans “Modi Se Bair Nahin Par Nitish Ki Khair Nahi” (We don’t hate Modi but Nitish will not be spared) and “Bihar first Bihari first”.
As political observers have been expecting, the LJP leader spared the BJP from any criticism, making it clear that the party’s quarrel is only with the JD(U) and Nitish. Its press statement announcing the decision said it is firmly with the BJP at the centre and even in Bihar and will field candidates only against the JD(U). The party is also open to a possible post-poll tie-up with the BJP after the election, signalling that the drama in Bihar will not end on 10 November, when the election result will be announced.
An LJP leader based in Patna termed Chirag’s move a calculated one and said there was no confusion behind the move.
“Chirag has made it clear that he will form the government with the BJP post-election. Are you not aware of BJP’s anxiety with Nitish Kumar in Bihar and the way Nitish treated BJP in the past, be it his opposition to Narendra Modi being projected as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate or his siding with the RJD to pass a unanimous resolution against NRC (in the budget session of Bihar assembly earlier this year)? See, in our absence, the JDU and BJP will contest on an almost equal number of seats in this election. The BJP has always fared better whenever they contested with JDU. Post-election, you never know. We have a dedicated 5% vote in Bihar which will increase now because of our going alone. Also, Chirag wanted to send a clear message to senior LJP leaders and his uncles that now he is in charge and he has done that successfully,” said this person, who wanted to remain anonymous.
Writing in The Telegraph, senior journalist Sankarshan Takhur called LJP’s announcement “a proxy ploy by the BJP not only to erode the chief minister of agency as unchallenged alliance leader, but also to chip away at his tally in the new Assembly to a degree that he is left emaciated”.
I had never been on good terms with Nitish ever since he had taken to national politics
Paswan vs Nitish
When Chirag began criticizing the Nitish Kumar government earlier this year, senior Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leaders such as Shivanand Tiwari were not ruling out LJP’s switchover to the Grand Alliance.
“After all it was Lalu Prasad Yadav who had made Ram Vilas Paswan a Rajya Sabha MP (in 2010) after his defeat,” Tiwari had told HuffPost India.
With seats being already distributed in the Mahagathbandhan, the LJP could be the second party in this year’s Bihar election to contest on its own after Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP). Every other party including the JD(U), RJD, Congress and the BJP, and even smaller parties such as Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM are part of one coalition or another.
Reacting to LJP’s decision, Ashok Choudhary, a senior minister in the Nitish Kumar cabinet and JD(U)’s recently appointed Bihar working president, told reporters in Patna, “LJP was not with us in the last assembly election so I dont think it will affect us very much. Their press release says they have ideological differences with us. We would like to know what are these ideological differences. It is on the Atrocities Act or increase of the state budget for Dalits by 40% in the last 15 years? During the Lok Sabha election, they were insisting that the CM should campaign for their candidates, and in the assembly election, you say we have ideological differences.”
There had been some speculation that LJP’s Lok Sabha MPs were not in favour of contesting the election alone. But the Paswans’ history shows that they were never comfortable with Nitish Kumar.
The senior Paswan, who received praise for resigning from the Atal Bihari Vajpeyee cabinet after the 2002 Gujarat riots, had said some years ago that the actual reason for his resignation as an NDA minister was Nitish Kumar and not the Gujarat riots.
“...(He) enjoyed great proximity to NDA convenor George Fernandes, who played role in changing the portfolio of Sharad Yadav and me. Though my changed ministry, coal, was not bad but I was deeply hurt because of not being informed or taken into confidence. It was Nitish, who had provoked my quitting NDA then. I had never been on good terms with Nitish ever since he had taken to national politics,” Patna-based journalist Santosh Singh quoted Ram Vilas Paswan in his 2015 book Ruled or Misruled, The story and destiny of Bihar.
In fact, it was Paswan’s insistence on a Muslim chief minister that had prolonged the accession of Nitish and imposed one more assembly election on Bihar in 2005.
Since the beginning of this year, Chirag has not missed a single opportunity to corner the Nitish government despite being a part of the NDA. Whether it is the state’s deteriorating law and order or collapse of a bridge, Chirag was leaving behind the opposition in criticizing Nitish, an attempt, many felt, to corner the maximum number of seats for his party in the assembly elections.
While Nitish never reacted to Chirag’s outbursts, the government launched a drive to showcase its work for Dalits in the last 15 years. Dalit leader Choudhary was made the party’s state working president on the eve of the election. The Nitish-led party also did not fill the LJP vacancy in the state cabinet after Chirag’s uncle Pashupati Paras got elected to Lok Sabha.
“LJP contested 2005, 2010 and 2015 election against JD(U) and has been planning to contest Bihar election on its own. There has been no document to show that LJP was a part of the Bihar NDA alliance,” JD(U) spokesperson KC Tyagi had said last month reacting to Chirag’s critical statements.
When asked if Chirag is taking a gamble, the LJP leader quoted above said, “This is not the first election that we are contesting on our own. We did that in 2005 and had emerged as a ‘kingmaker’. This time around we have BJP with us and our fight is only with the JD(U). The actual election will be after the results are announced for these polls. This is always better than contesting on 20-25 seats that we would have got in the NDA.”
For now, the Bihar BJP leaders have said that they have faith in Nitish Kumar’s leadership and will contest the election under his leadership.
But if Chirag’s tweet from Monday evening—he says every vote for Nitish will increase the chance of young Biharis migrating from the state—is anything to go by, the JD(U)-BJP alliance is on a rocky road weeks before the election.