Why would an outfit like Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) draw such a huge interest nationally when pre-poll surveys have predicted it can’t win more than one seat in the next Lok Sabha?
The sudden interest in the LJP has a social background. The Paswans, given to toddy tapping for a caste vocation, are the most preponderant group among the extremely backward classes (EBCs) of Bihar. It’s also the most militant, standing up to upper castes and capable of getting Dalit votes for its candidates where they are dominant. With an even spread in all constituencies, this caste in any alliance widens the social support group for an alliance and brings in other EBCs to the table.
The BJP’s wooing of Paswan had two objectives: one, widening the social base in a group that was decidedly anti-BJP, and two, his ‘return’ after he quit the AB Vajpayee cabinet over the 2002 Gujarat riots, rebuts criticism of the BJP as a wholly communal party.
With LJP joining the NDA , the clout of the RJD-Congress combine has weakened tremendously, largely because the LJP depends on candidates from the upper castes and Muslims as well. The upper castes are wholly with the BJP now and the Muslims, despite being anti-BJP, could support LJP candidates in certain districts.
However, the larger danger to the RJD is the Paswan clout in districts such as Hajipur, Vaishali and even Chapra. While Hajipur, with a huge upper caste electorate of Bhumihars stands solidly with Paswan, his Dalit votes swung it the RJD way in Vaishali and Chapra, which is Lalu’s backyard and the constituency where Rabri Devi would stand from. It was always the Lalu Prasad-Ram Vilas bonhomie that used to set up these constituencies for the UPA.
But with Paswan gone, the BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy is in with more than a shout after narrowly ending up on the losing side against Lalu in the past.
However, the LJP’s calculations go much beyond the Lok Sabha polls in Bihar. It rues the fact that its clout in alliance with the RJD had never helped it get more seats. With the BJP seemingly buoyant and Ram Vilas’ son Chirag looking to embark on an ‘independent’ political course, free of his father’s legacy, the LJP now looks to gain hugely from any pro-Narendra Modi wave in Bihar.
If their calculations go well, Paswan’s gambit of ‘returning home’ to the NDA could earn the LJP most of the six to eight seats it could fight for.
That many seats translated into assembly segments is close to 40, much more than its best showing of 29 seats in the 2005 assembly polls, just before the Lalu-Rabri era ended.
But then, the UPA is also counting on the anti-Paswan bias among 21 Mahadalit castes. Paswan with the NDA could make for a Mahadalit backlash, the benefit of which could go to either to the JD(U) or RJD.