The 41-year-old Chirag Paswan is likely to be projected by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as a powerful foil to Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejaswi Yadav during the campaign for next year’s Lok Sabha elections.
Paswan, the son of former union minister and founder of (LJP) Ram Vilas Paswan, returned to the NDA a fortnight ago after he walked out of the alliance in Bihar during the 2020 Assembly elections in that state, to campaign against Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United)-JD(U).
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, including junior home minister Nityanand Rai, had a series of meetings with Chirag Paswan since late last month to pave the way for his return to the NDA fold.
Chirag Paswan was welcomed back into the NDA by BJP chief J P Nadda, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other top BJP leaders at the NDA meeting held in New Delhi July 18.
The BJP, senior state party leaders told Swarajya in Patna, had been keen on re-inducting Chirag Paswan into the NDA fold.
That’s because, according to the BJP’s internal assessment, an overwhelming majority of Paswans (or Dusadhs) — a Dalit community who constitute over 6 per cent of Bihar’s electorate — support Chirag Paswan and not his uncle , the younger brother of Ram Vilas Paswan.
But the major reason behind BJP’s keenness in getting Chirag back into the NDA, is because it views him as a perfect foil to current Deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav who is Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) founder Lalu Yadav’s son.
Tejaswi, 34, has managed to capture the imagination of a section of Bihar’s youth cutting across political divides.
Why Chirag Paswan Is Important:
Political scientist Yogendra Kumar who teaches the subject at Patna University told Swarajya that Bihar’s aspirational younger generation are quite frustrated with the tired old faces in the state’s political landscape.
“All the present set of leaders of Bihar are old and have ruled the state for many years. And the younger generation who aspire for jobs and a better lifestyle are acutely aware of the fact that all the current leaders have failed them. That’s why they now seek a young politician and like it or not, Tejaswi is the only young and fresh face on the scene right now,” said Kumar.
Political observer Arvind Majhi, who had been associated with the CPI(ML) in the past, endorsed Kumar’s views.
“The younger generation (in the age group ranging from early 20s to late 30s and even early 40s) are fed up with the likes of Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar. Even the BJP, which was in the Nitish Kumar-led government for many years, does not have a young face that the ambitious young man in Bihar can look up to,” said Majhi.
That is why the BJP zeroed in on Chirag who is young and presentable. What also works in Chirag’s favour is his clean image and his good oratorical skills.
Another big advantage is that he is the son of Ram Vilas Paswan who is still revered by a large section of the Dalits of Bihar. Ram Vilas Paswan was a widely respected and non-controversial leader who had not been tainted by charges of corruption, unlike many of his contemporaries in the state.
Bihar BJP state president Samrat Chaudhury told Swarajya that Chirag’s return to the NDA will boost the alliance’s prospects in the state. He confirmed that Chirag Paswan will be a star speaker of the alliance.
What Happened In 2020 Assembly Elections:
Chirag is a well-known critic of Nitish Kumar and minces no words in criticising the Bihar Chief Minister. It was over Kumar’s projection as the NDA’s chief ministerial candidate in the 2000 Assembly elections that Chirag walked out of the NDA.
Chirag campaigned vigorously against Nitish Kumar and the JD(U). Though the LJP could win just one seat, Chirag’s spirited campaign against Nitish Kumar was responsible for sharply reducing the JD(U)’s tally from 71 in 2015 to 43 in 2020.
Nitish Kumar suspected that the BJP had propped up Chirag Paswan to campaign against the JD(U) and the LJP had cut into the anti-RJD votes in seats where LJP had fielded candidates, thus leading to the defeat of many JD(U) candidates.
According to Nitish Kumar’s calculation, the LJP was responsible for his party’s defeat in about 35 to 40 seats. Kumar felt that the BJP pitted Chirag against him to weaken his party and reduce it to a junior partner in the ruling alliance in the state.
This suspicion against the BJP is what led to Kumar to part ways with the saffron party and return to the RJD-led mahagathbandhan in August last year.
But even though he was successful in cutting the JD(U) and Nitish Kumar down to size, the LJP suffered a split in June 2021 when his uncle, , replaced Chirag as the party president with the help of the LJP’s four other MPs.
Chirag expelled all the five MPs — including his uncle and cousin (the son of another brother of Ram Vilas Paswan) — from the party and named himself the president of the .
The other faction of the party headed by Pashupati Kumar Paras is called the (RLJP).
Chirag Paswan blames Nitish Kumar for engineering the split in the LJP and also enticing the lone LJP MLA into the JD(U). The RLJP aligned with the NDA immediately after the split and Pashupati Paras is a minister in the Union Government.
After the split in the LJP and Paras’ induction into the Union Cabinet, Chirag maintained a low profile. Though he always remained in touch with BJP leaders and on friendly terms with them, rumours started circulating since last year-end that the RJD was sending feelers to him.
RJD’s Feelers To Chirag Paswan:
It is learnt that after Lalu Yadav was released on bail in mid-2022, he told his senior party colleagues that Chirag Paswan would be an asset for the mahagathandhan and he should be courted.
Lalu Yadav’s messengers reminded Chirag that his father (Ram Vilas Paswan) had worked together with Lalu Yadav and the LJP and RJD were allies in the past.
Lalu Yadav reportedly told his senior colleagues that the entry of Chirag Paswan into the mahagathbandhan would ensure a sure win in a large number of seats for the mahagathbandhan in next year’s Lok Sabha elections and the Assembly polls in 2025.
He (Lalu Yadav) had said that Chirag, along with Tejaswi (Lalu’s son and present deputy CM), would be able to win over the younger generation of voters in Bihar.
BJP’s Assessment Of Chirag’s Strength:
The BJP’s internal assessment also revealed that even though the LJP split, the Dusadh community was largely behind Chirag Paswan and not his uncle Pashupati Paras who lacks charisma, is considered old at 71 and cannot match his nephew’s (Chirag’s) public speaking skills.
The BJP’s assessment also revealed that anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar had risen and Kumar’s sushasan babu (good administrator) tag had faded away.
The BJP also wanted to consolidate its hold over Dalit voters and, hence, the party leadership launched a serious bid to re-induct Chirag into the NDA.
What also played a role is the growing public mood in Bihar against the tried and tested politicians and their failure to take Bihar out of the rut, in the seven and half decades since Independence.
Many BJP leaders felt that Chirag Paswan was slowly capturing the imagination of Bihar’s young voters.
Chirag Paswan’s Bihar first, Bihari First campaign in the last Assembly elections found favour with large sections of the youth. Chirag has repeatedly promised to focus on the youth and provide improved employment opportunities to them.
In fact, Chirag’s politics is largely youth-centric and he always talks about restoring Bihar to its ancient glory. He has a number of ideas — like developing the state’s dairy sector, setting up of a youth commission, harnessing technology to benefit the youth — that resonate among Bihar’s younger generation.
“Chirag has a huge advantage over Tejaswi since he (Chirag) does not suffer any association with the corrupt (like Lalu Yadav) or misgovernance (like the RJD’s jungle raj years). He is more presentable than Tejaswi who increasingly resembles his father in his speeches and attitude. Chirag is clean, son of a widely-respected politician and articulates the aspirations of Bihar’s youth,” a senior BJP leader told Swarajya.
Re-Entry Into NDA:
A series of meetings with senior BJP leaders and two back-to-back confabulations with junior Home Minister Nityanand Rai paved the way for Chirag’s re-induction into the NDA.
BJP president J P Nadda wrote to him in the second week of July inviting him to the NDA meeting at New Delhi on 18 July.
But Chirag’s senior party colleagues wanted him to drive a hard bargain. “We requested our leader (Chirag Paswan) to ask the BJP central leadership for six Lok Sabha seats and one Rajya Sabha seat,” LJP (Ram Vilas) principal general secretary Sanjay Paswan told Swarajya.
Chirag repeated these demands to Union Home Minister Amit Shah on the eve of the 18 July meeting of NDA partners. The BJP central leadership is understood to have told Chirag that his demands will be considered favourably.
Scenes of warmth were witnessed at the July 18 meeting with top BJP leaders welcoming Chirag with a lot of affection. Prime Minister Modi patted Chirag on his cheeks and hugged him warmly.
A beaming Chirag is learnt to have told the Prime Minister that his ties with the NDA would remain unbroken forever.
The BJP has also urged Chirag to mend ties with his uncle and re-unite the LJP. Chirag reached out to Pashupati Paras at the 18 July meeting and touched his feet. But Paras has remained non-committal so far.
After the 18 July meeting, Paras commented: “once milk curdles, it is impossible to churn butter out of it”. But he is under a lot of pressure from the BJP leadership to join forces with Chirag Paswan and form a united LJP again to avoid a split in Paswan votes.
The BJP’s assessment is that the fight for next year’s Lok Sabha elections in Bihar is going to be a close one and even a small split in Paswan votes needs to be avoided.
That is why the BJP leadership is leaning hard on Paras. He has been reportedly told that his RLJP’s ratings are low and his only chance of retaining the cabinet berth if the NDA comes to power next year is to patch up with his nephew.
Though the Dusadh (Paswan) community forms just 6 per cent of Bihar’s electorate, they punch much above their weight among Dalits. Paswans also form a large segment of soldiers of the Indian Army.
The Paswans have no love lost for Kurmis (Nitish Kumar’s caste) since it was Kurmi landlords who massacred Dusadh landless peasants at Belchi in 1977. That is considered to be one of the worst massacres in Bihar’s long caste-fuelled history.
BJP leaders want to field Chirag Paswan to effectively counter Tejaswi Yadav. The preparations for next year’s battle royale have already started and Chirag is sitting in at many meetings between BJP leaders to finalise next year’s election strategy in Bihar.
Chirag Paswan, say BJP leaders, can emerge as a prominent Dalit face of the NDA and, with the backing of his Dusadh community and other Dalits, can scupper the prospects of the RJD-led mahagathbandhan in Bihar.
Chirag Speaks To Swarajya:
“I have always been a strong and unwavering supporter of Prime Minister Modi and the BJP. I will work with full dedication to ensure the NDA’s victory in next year’s Lok Sabha elections. My target is to ensure the NDA’s win from all 40 seats in Bihar and reduce the mahagathbandhan’s tally to zero. Last time (2019) Nitish Kumar won 16 seats due to Modiji’s appeal and leadership. This time, the JD(U) will not get a single seat and it will mark the end of Nitish Kumar’s lacklustre political career,” Chirag Paswan told Swarajya.
Chirag, who acted in a 2011 Bollywood movie opposite Kangana Ranaut, also said that he would strive to unite all Dalits in Bihar against the “corrupt, dynastic and criminal mahagathbandhan”.
“I have many plans of ensuring good education, training and employment opportunities for the youth as well as turning them into entrepreneurs and ushering in industrialisation in Bihar,” he added.
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