Explained: Chirag Paswan’s Fine Balancing Act Of Swearing By Modi and Swearing At Nitish Kumar

Explained: Chirag Paswan’s Fine Balancing Act Of Swearing By Modi and Swearing At Nitish KumarChirag Paswan (Facebook)
  • The decision to go it alone in Bihar fits in neatly with the junior Paswan’s long term goal. But the gambit of going it alone is a risky one, feel many political observers.

    10 November (the day of counting) will reveal if Chirag Paswan’s gambit succeeded or failed.

The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) has finally broken ranks with the BJP-Janata Dal (United) alliance in Bihar over “ideological differences” with the JD(U).

LJP chief Chirag Paswan has, however, positioned himself on the right side of the BJP and said his party will continue to be part of the NDA at the Centre.

In doing so, Chirag Paswan, the son of ailing Union Minister and LJP founder Ram Vilas Paswan, who underwent a cardiac procedure on Friday (2 October), is attempting a fine balancing act.

Chirag Paswan’s political gamble is dictated not only by his own political ambitions, but also realpolitik.

Nitish Kumar faces anti-incumbency

The junior Paswan is well aware of the fact that Nitish Kumar is hamstrung by anti-incumbency and the Bihar chief minister’s performance over the last five years has been far from satisfactory.

Nitish Kumar also damaged his political credibility by breaking away from the NDA (in 2014 over the BJP’s projection of Modi as prime ministerial candidate) and joining the Congress-RJD Mahagathbandhan that won the 2015 Assembly polls in Bihar, before parting ways with that alliance and returning to the NDA in 2017.

Even the BJP’s internal surveys have reportedly shown that Kumar is facing anti-incumbency and many in Bihar are unhappy with him for having failed to deliver in his current (third) term as chief minister.

The anger with Nitish Kumar is over his failure to solve the major problem of recurring floods in Bihar, unemployment, and failure to mitigate the sufferings of those who returned to the state during the countrywide lockdown.

“The pace of development in Bihar slackened considerably in Nitish Kumar’s second term and decreased to a disappointing level over the last five years. It was only after the JD(U) returned to the NDA in 2017 that things improved a bit.

“But the credit for that goes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Union Ministers for the proactive steps they took to speed up development works in Bihar through Centrally-sponsored schemes. Nitish Kumar just sat back and wanted to take credit for the good work done by the Union government,” said LJP’s Samastipur Lok Sabha MP and Chirag Paswan’s cousin Prince Raj.

The ‘Manipur formula’

There were early indications that the LJP would break ranks with the JD(U) in Bihar and field candidates against JD(U) candidates.

“The manner in which Chirag Paswan started criticising Nitish Kumar from early this year made it clear that he is looking for the right time to break away and chart his own political course in the state,” said a senior JD(U) leader.

Paswan, while announcing the LJP’s break from the JD(U) after a meeting of the party’s parliamentarians in New Delhi on Sunday (4 October) evening, said that the LJP would stick to its ‘Manipur formula’ in Bihar.

The LJP contested the Manipur Assembly polls in 2017 on its own without breaking away from the NDA at the Centre. It joined the BJP-led government in the state after the elections. This came to be called the ‘Manipur formula’.

“Our party MLAs will join a BJP-led government in Bihar after the elections. We want the BJP to become the dominant partner of the alliance in Bihar and the chief minister should be from the BJP,” said Chirag Paswan.

The young voters

Chirag is also banking on another factor: the Bihar electorate’s fatigue with old and tired faces. “The RJD (the NDA’s principal rival in Bihar) has a fresh face in Tejashwi Prasad Yadav (Lalu Prasad’s son) who is the Mahagathbandhan’s chief ministerial candidate.

“The projection of a young Tejashwi has injected a fair bit of enthusiasm in Bihar’s electoral politics and many, especially the youth, are gravitating towards him. Chirag Paswan is the perfect foil to Tejashwi and can swing the youth votes,” said a senior BJP leader who did not want to be named.

Many among the young voters, especially in the urban areas, will not vote on caste lines. This injects a new element in Bihar’s electoral arithmetic.

“Till now, it had been easy to predict which community will vote for which party or candidate because voting has traditionally been on caste and community lines. But a substantial section of voters this time will not follow this time-honoured trend. The young voters will not want to vote for old faces and Nitish Kumar, who is into his third term, is an old face,” explained the BJP leader.

Chirag’s appeal

Chirag Paswan, 38, is a fresh and young face in Bihar’s political landscape and is widely perceived to be more politically savvy than Tejashwi Yadav. Paswan also enjoys a celebrity status, having acted in a Bollywood movie Miley Naa Miley Hum.

Chirag’s slogan ‘Bihar first, Bihari first’ is aimed at the youth. He is also not weighed down by the baggage of the past, unlike Tejashwi who heads a party that is widely perceived to be corrupt (remember the fodder scam) and populated by criminals and musclemen.

Chirag’s father is a much more respected figure in Bihar (and nationally) than the scam-tainted Lalu Prasad Yadav.

LJP’s long-term plan

Chirag Paswan also knows that Nitish Kumar, who will be 70 soon, does not have age on his side. And the JD(U) does not have any political future once Nitish Kumar hangs up his boots. The 2020 elections are likely to be Nitish’s last hurrah. Chirag is calibrating his present moves with an eye on 2025.

According to the LJP’s assessment, many in the JD(U) will join the BJP after Nitish Kumar retires. The JD(U) may also merge itself with the BJP.

Chirag Paswan has his sights set on that and is readying his party for that. In such a scenario, the LJP becomes a junior partner of a BJP-led NDA in Bihar.

Such an arrangement will be mutually beneficial for both the parties since the LJP, unlike the JD(U), will not dent the forward caste and urban support base of the BJP and can rope in backward caste support for the coalition.

Nitish Kumar had brought in all scheduled castes under an umbrella Mahadalit alliance. This successful social engineering project restricted the LJP’s influence to mostly the Paswan community.

In order to break out of its traditional support base, the LJP coined the slogan: Na dharm, na jaat, karenge saabki baat (We will work for all, irrespective of community or caste).

Chirag Paswan rightly felt that if the LJP continues to be part of the NDA in Bihar, it will remain a marginal player. Hence, he demanded a minimum of 30-odd seats, knowing fully well that this demand would be turned down.

Why seat-sharing negotiations failed

The BJP and JD(U) have already agreed to the formula or contesting from an equal number of seats. The JD(U) agreed to allocate a few seats from its quota to former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) and asked the BJP to accommodate the LJP from its own quota.

If the BJP were to do so, it would have resulted in the party contesting from much lesser seats than the JD(U) since the LJP would not have settled for just the seven seats that the HAM-S has accepted.

The BJP wants to be an equal partner in the coalition in Bihar. That is why it asked the JD(U) to also spare some seats from its quota for the LJP. But given the recent acrimonious ties between the JD(U) and LJP, the former flatly refused.

Interestingly, the LJP does not blame the BJP for the breakdown of seat-sharing talks. The blame, it says, squarely lay with the JD(U) and with Nitish Kumar personally.

The LJP, which has declared that it will put up candidates in all the seats that the JD(U) will be contesting, has repeatedly voiced the slogan: Modi tujhse bair nahin, Nitish tumhari khair nahin (Modi we don’t have any quarrel with you, but Nitish we will teach you a lesson).

Chirag Paswan has also taken pains to reach out to the BJP central leadership and met even the party president J.P.Nadda twice over the last one week.

The LJP’s move to field candidates against the JD(U) can affect the latter’s performance in many seats as the Mahadalit youth vote could shift to the LJP with Chirag as its leader.

If the LJP can win a respectable number of seats and scupper the JD(U)’s chances in many seats, its political profile within the state will increase.

That will also help the party establish its presence in states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh which has a significant number of Mahadalits.

Chirag Paswan’s ultimate aim is to make the LJP a pan-Indian party representing Mahadalits, or all sections of the Scheduled Castes.

The decision to go it alone in Bihar fits in neatly with the junior Paswan’s long term goal. But the gambit of going it alone is a risky one, feel many political observers.

10 November (the day of counting) will reveal if Chirag Paswan’s gambit succeeded or failed.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.


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