Decoding the roots of the JD(U)-LJP battle in Bihar’s political theatre | Analysis
This piece of history is essential to understand the late Paswan’s feeble personal chemistry with KumarUpdated: Oct 15, 2020, 06:37 IST
Of the last Mohicans of the social justice movement, three are now alive with the passing of Ram Vilas Paswan. In the Bihar elections, only Nitish Kumar will be an active campaigner. Lalu Prasad is incarcerated; and Sharad Yadav is under treatment in a Delhi hospital. Until the state’s competitive caste politics did them apart, they were the undivided Janata Dal’s shining stars. Youthful and raring to go, three of them entered Parliament in the 1970s on the Janata Party ticket. Sharad Yadav won from Jabalpur in 1974, and was re-elected in 1977, when the Lalu-Paswan duo, too, made their maiden entry to the Lok Sabha.
This piece of history is essential to understand the late Paswan’s feeble personal chemistry with Kumar. While Paswan first entered the assembly in 1969, Kumar, who lost the 1977 and 1980 elections, became a legislator only in the mid-1980s. Paswan’s claim to prominence over Kumar rested on his early electoral successes. His self-image was reinforced by his hold on the Paswan community, accounting for nearly 6% of the state electorate.
In the 2000 polls, Paswan was the NDA’s chief ministerial face. But the then Prime Minister AB Vajpayee had Kumar installed as chief minister (CM) to marshal numbers in the hung assembly. The effort backfired. Kumar’s term lasted seven days, Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) retained power, and Paswan formed his Lok Janashakti Party (LJP). In fact, Nitish Kumar’s elevation as CM after the repeat 2005 elections rankled Paswan, who had also seen the railways portfolio he coveted going to Kumar under Vajpayee in the Union Cabinet.
Paswan was also less deferential to Nitish Kumar because of the latter’s relatively smaller Kurmi social base, than he was to Lalu Prasad, whose Muslim-Yadav constituency was formidable. The social engineering that became Kumar’s USP was as much a cutting-down-to-size of Paswan as of Lalu Prasad. Within Dalits, Paswans are relatively dominant, just as Yadavs are among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Nitish Kumar created class divides in the omnibus social justice landscape. The constituencies he carved of Pasmanda Muslims, Mahadalits and Aati-Pichadas earned him political heft at the expense of the LJP and RJD. The objective was identical when he made space for Jitan Ram Manjhi, a Mahadalit, as CM when he briefly demitted office in 2014.
Chirag Paswan’s so-called “ideological differences” with Nitish Kumar is facetious reasoning for putting up candidates against the JD(U). There was a time when Chirag’s father would tell anyone who cared to hear that he quit the Vajpayee regime in protest against the 2002 Gujarat riots. That also was the phase when he mocked the BJP’s cow-protection plank in the Lok Sabha: “You call gai your mata but you have us (Dalits) carry her carcass”. Having been a minister in successive coalitions since 1989, bar the Chandrashekhar regime, Paswan abandoned demagogic secularism at the first opportunity to join Narendra Modi. Nitish Kumar was no different when he dumped the RJD to ally with the BJP in 2017. Yet, when it came to choosing between adversaries, Lalu Prasad’s son, Tejashwi Yadav, recently suggested that he preferred Paswan’s plain-speak to the inscrutable Kumar. To that extent, he should trust Chirag’s challenge to the CM who’s facing anti-incumbency. But that’ll be an oversimplification. Making matters tricky is the suspicion of the BJP having encouraged the LJP.
It is noteworthy that the LJP’s best ever tally of 29 was in the February 2005 polls. It was a high accompanied by a low, with Paswan deploying an Osama Bin Laden look-alike in the campaign to woo Muslims. His quid pro quo for support to the RJD-Congress in the hung assembly entailed making a Muslim the CM. Neither party rose to the bait. The result: Nitish Kumar romped home in the repeat election. With just two seats now in the outgoing assembly, the basis of the LJP gambit is that it has little to lose and everything to gain. In contrast, Nitish Kumar’s stakes are higher. A dip in his tally will reduce him as CM. Officious to a fault, that’s one role he will find hard to play.