Twelve years after quitting the NDA, Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan on Thursday returned to the BJP-led alliance, in a move that may weaken Bihar strongman Nitish Kumar’s hold over backward caste votes in the state.
Paswan, who had quit the National Democratic Alliance in protest against the 2002 Gujarat riots, said he would join BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi when the latter holds a rally in Muzaffarpur this Monday.
The LJP will contest seven of Bihar's 40 Lok Sabha seats as part of the pact, while the BJP is likely to contest 30 constituencies, leaving two seats for Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP).
Addressing a press conference jointly with BJP president Rajnath Singh, the LJP leader avoided a direct response to his about-turn on his known position against "communal politics", saying that "the LJP was now a part of the NDA, which had decided on Modi's candidature for prime ministership".
"With Paswan's re-entry, the process of expansion of the NDA has begun," Singh said, adding that the poll agreement between their parties would benefit poll prospects in and outside Bihar.
With Paswan on their side, the saffron camp hopes to take a shot at breaching the "mahadalit" (extremely backwards) vote bank that JD(U) leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has assiduously built over the past few years. The saffron party had got only 8% of the Dalit and OBC votes in the 2009 general elections.
Paswan's entry dilutes political arguments about the "untouchability" of Modi among smaller parties and groups. "The saffron camp is likely to parade Paswan as a prize catch at meetings and rallies that Modi and other BJP leaders will address within Bihar and outside," a source said.
The LJP hopes to cash in on the "Modi wave" to reverse the dark spell of electoral debacle in three subsequent elections.