LJP will go solo as 50-50 deal likely for BJP, JD(U)
After much dithering on seat-sharing, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) on Sunday took a call to contest the upcoming three-phase assembly election in Bihar on its own. The decision to not contest as a partner of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was taken at a meeting of the party’s parliamentary board, which adopted a resolution that the LJP will not contest the polls under the leadership of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.
The party said the differences it had were limited to the Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), or JD (U), and that it continues to support the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as an NDA ally at the Centre. It went on to say that the party will work to “strengthen Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government”.
The developements came on a day the BJP and the JD(U) agreed to contest the three-phase elections in the state as equal partners, according to a BJP functionary. The functionary, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the BJP was likely to contest on 121 seats and the JD(U) on 122. The leader added that the JD(U) was likely to assign five seats to the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) from its quota. There are 243 seats in the Bihar assembly.
The resolution also mentioned that since it had ideological differences with the JD(U), it will contest against it at the three-phase election set for October 28, November 3 and November 7. LJP president Chirag Paswan, who chaired the party’s parliamentary board meeting, told reporters that the party will perform well in the elections and that the decision to go solo was a “happy one”.
This is not the first time that the LJP has decided to contest state polls independently of the NDA. It chose not to be part of the NDA while contesting the 2017 Manipur assembly election, but later its only MLA joined the BJP government. It contested the 2014 assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir and the 2019 assembly elections in Jharkhand on its own. In Bihar, the party had been threatening to break away from the NDA if its demand that it be allowed to contest 42 seats in the 243-member assembly was not met.
The BJP played down the differences between the LJP and the JD(U), but Paswan trained his guns at the party and has been critical of the Bihar CM, whom he has accused of failing to meet the poll promise of ushering in economic development.
On Sunday, the BJP leadership remained tight-lipped about the LJP’s decision. To a question on whether this will impact the electoral outcome, a leader said it would “have a limited impact on a few seats” as the LJP is only contesting against the JD(U).
“The move will not impact the BJP or the NDA. Both the parties are going strong and will win a majority. However, BJP leadership has already announced that its workers will ensure the win of all NDA allies; so even as the LJP claims it will support and strengthen BJP’s hands, it cannot bank on support of the workers during canvassing,” a party functionary said on condition of anonymity. JD (U) questioned the “ideological differences”. News agency ANI quoted JD(U)’s state unit working president Ashok Chaudhary as questioning why these differences hadn’t come up during the Lok Sabha elections, which the LJP contested as part of the NDA. “We want to know the specific ideological difference that the LJP has with us. During Lok Sabha polls, they partner with us and request Nitish Kumar’s presence in their constituency and win the elections. Now for Bihar assembly polls, they claim ideological difference,” he said.
To be sure, LJP may have never been a major force in Bihar politics, but has made its presence felt since its inception in 2000, when Ram Vilas Paswan set up the party after splitting from the Janata Dal on the issue of joining the BJP-led NDA. Its politics have revolved mostly around the Dalits, who constitute over 16% of the votes in Bihar. Though it could never win enough seats in Bihar to expand its footprint, LJP has remained a party that could not be ignored: Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad once described Ram Vilas Paswan as the “mausam vigyanik” (weather scientist) for his uncanny knack of predicting the poll outcome much in advance of the polls and setting his sails accordingly.
Two decades later, LJP has undergone a generational shift with Chirag taking over as its national president, and his cousin and former MP Ramchandra Paswan’s son, Prince Raj, becoming the state president. The party has also coined a new slogan: ‘Bihar first, Bihari first’. Chirag identifies himself as a ‘yuva Bihari’ (young Bihari) on Twitter to bond with the young and to break the image of the party being a family enterprise.
Chirag is being seen in his party as a potential CM candidate in a state where Kumar is projected as a leader with no competition from within and outside the NDA. Chirag is apparently aware that this could well be the last innings of Kumar as the Bihar CM. Chirag’s aggressive posturing against Nitish Kumar, while maintaining a soft approach towards the Narendra Modi-led BJP, could be an indicator of his ambition and the political craft he inherited from his father, who has always gotten along well with parties with contrasting ideologies, depending on the situation. Soon after taking over the party’s reins, Chirag had said that the 2020 Bihar assembly elections would be his big test and his objective would be to “expand the footprints of the party in Bihar and even beyond in states with a sizeable support base like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh”.
“Chirag is doing deft politics like his father. With age by his side, he is in for a tough bargain, but he is taking a calculated risk by not antagonising the BJP. He knows what he needs to do and it may be part of a larger strategy. He speaks against Nitish Kumar, but praises Narendra Modi. He has a plan and he is working accordingly,” said NK Choudhary, a political analyst and former head of the department of economics at Patna University.