Patna: The imminent split in the Lok Janshakti Party’s (LJP’s) parliamentary group has sparked an existential crisis for young party president Chirag Paswan within a year of the death of his father and Bihar’s lone Dalit leader, Ram Vilas Paswan.
The man who has played spoilsport against Chirag is his own uncle, Pashupati Kumar Paras, who owes whatever he has – from his upbringing to his career in politics – to his departed elder brother.
Chirag was born to Ram Vilas’s second wife, Reena, and jumped into politics from Bollywood around 2013 – the time when Lalu Prasad Yadav’s younger son, Tejashwi Yadav, too had joined the fray, abandoning his dalliance with cricket.
By the time Chirag joined politics, Ram Vilas had already been accused of making the LJP his family’s pocket borough. He was known for strong weakness for his younger brothers – Pashupati and Ramchandra Paswan. In fact, Pashupati posed as the Laxman to Ram Vilas’s Rama.
But politics has always been known for ruthlessness and intrigue. Leaving Chirag alone, four LJP MPs – Mehboob Ali Kaiser (Khagaria), Veena Devi (Vaishali), Prince Raj (Samastipur) and Chandan Singh (Nawada) – joined hands to nominate Pashupati (Hajipur) as their leader in the Lok Sabha yesterday. Losing no time, Pashupati – for whom Ram Vilas had vacated the Hajipur seat after nursing it for his entire political life – led all the MPs to meet the Lok Sabha speaker, Om Birla, and request him to treat them as a ‘separate group’. The rebel LJP MPs ‘expelled’ Chirag from all posts of the party.
Once the speaker notifies them as a separate group and the Election Commission accepts their claim, the split in the LJP will be formal.
“I am bearing with the loss of my father. The loss of the MPs is not as big as the loss of a father. I will bear it,” Chirag, overwhelmed with emotion, said. But the fact remains that the loss of the MPs has put a big question mark on Chirag’s very existence as a political leader. He will have to work hard in the rough and tumble of politics to keep himself relevant against his opponents.
Nitish’s behind the scenes operation
A close inquiry into the LJP’s developments highlights that Pashupati is likely just a pawn in the larger game being played from behind the scenes by Janata Dal (United) leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. The Pashupati-led group has reposed faith in Nitish’s leadership. It’s not known whether the group will eventually join the JDU, but it’s crystal clear that it will bend to Nitish’s will.
According to media reports, Pashupati was working closely with the JDU MP from Munger and Nitish’s close aide, Lallan Singh, for quite some time. It’s known to one and all in Bihar’s political circles that Lallan is to Nitish what Union home minister Amit Shah is to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the context of political operations.
This is not the first time that Nitish has worked against the LJP through Lallan. Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP fought independently in the February 2005 assembly elections, winning 29 seats. With Ram Vilas sticking to his guns to support neither Rabri Devi nor Nitish, there no way to form government in hung Bihar assembly then.
It was at this stage that Lallan befriended the pharmaceutical baron, King Mahendra. The JDU sent King Mahendra to the Rajya Sabha in lieu of his ‘financial support’ that the JDU used to split the LJP and get 12 of its MLAs to cross over. The party fielded the renegade LJP MLAs on JDU tickets in the November 2005 elections, giving it enough seats to form government.
Nitish also tried to eat into the LJP’s Dalit voter base by the creating ‘Mahadalit’ category and leaving out the Paswans – Ram Vilas’s caste-men – from the this group that was given more affirmative action benefits from the government.
But a fighter, Ram Vilas buried his differences with Lalu, rebuilt his party, won the Hajipur seat in 2009 and became a minister in the Manmohan Singh-led government. And when Nitish dumped the BJP after the BJP’s projection of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate in 2014, Ram Vilas joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. The LJP won seven Lok Sabha seats in 2014 against the JDU’s two.
Challenge as well as opportunity for Chirag
Nitish’s troubles arose when he returned to the NDA in 2017. Nitish and Ram Vilas had been sworn enemies in Bihar for a long time. Nitish refused to recognise the LJP’s existence in the NDA and operated hard against it. Still, Ram Vilas Paswan bagged candidacy for six Lok Sabha seats in 2019 and won all the six seats. Nitish’s JDU got 17 seats and won 16.
Nitish continued his behind the scenes operations against the LJP in the 2020 assembly elections. He refused to recognise the LJP and was not ready to spare more than 25 seats or so in its share. Chirag, who had become the LJP president by then, rebelled against Nitish, fielding his party candidates against JDU candidates. Chirag continued to express his loyalty to Modi and didn’t pit his candidates against the BJP’s ones. The grapevine had it that the BJP had clandestinely blessed Chirag to act against Nitish. Chirag’s gamble worked in the sense that Nitish’s party was reduced to only 43 MLAs.
Smarting under the loss that Chirag – as openly alleged by the JDU – caused to the party, Nitish is believed to have worked against Chirag with a ferocious vengeance. However, the crisis has given an opportunity to Chirag to emerge as a Dalit leader; his Paswan caste-men, who hold the key in many reserved constituencies in Bihar, will support him. Pashupati and his group, after deserting Chirag, can in no way enjoy the loyalty of the Paswans. Ram Vilas was to the Paswans what Lalu is to the Yadavs. But it is going to be a long haul for young Chirag.
BJP in flux
Sources in the BJP said that the party had no role in the LJP’s split. In fact, there is no reason for the BJP to revel in Chirag’s plight. With the five LJP renegades singing in tune with the JDU, Nitish’s party will have a collective strength of 21 MPs against the BJP’s 17 in Bihar. There are already speculations doing the rounds that Pashupati might be inducted into the Narendra Modi-led council of ministers. The JDU president, Ram Chandra Prasad Singh, has already talked about the “proportionate representation of NDA partners in the Union ministries”.
Moreover, Nitish – known as a tough bargainer – has got added muscle to flex against the BJP, with the five LJP rebels expressing their faith in him.
What will be RJD’s move?
It will be interesting to see how the Rastriya Janata Dal – the strongest and single-largest party in Bihar – responds to the development in the LJP. RJD boss Lalu and his heir apparent Tejashwi must be keeping a close watch on the issue. Tejaswhi and Chirag have been respectful of each other ever since they joined politics. Tejashwi’s response depends on how things unfold and the path Chirag walks in the days to come.
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, author and professor of journalism and mass communications at Invertis University, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh.