Bihar: Party Action Against LJP Leader Before Polls Indicates Rift Within NDA

A misplaced comment to the media by a senior leader of the Lok Janshakti Party on June 27 has had political analysts speculating on the rivalry between the LJP and the JDU.

Patna: In the last few days, the leaders of the various coalition partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar, including the BJP and the JDU, have been making statements along the lines of “The NDA is strong in Bihar; we will win by a two-thirds majority”.

Such statements are meant to suggest that the alliance is strong. But disciplinary action by the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) against one of its leaders who made a media statement he should not have suggests that the alliance is not as unified as it claims to be.

The LJP has removed Raghavendra Bharti, its district president in Munger, from his post because he allegedly told the media that “the NDA is unbreakable.”

A letter sent to Bharti from the LJP on July 1 said, “Your statement in the media that the NDA alliance is unbreakable has been found to be contrary to the guidelines given by the party. Regarding the alliance, the party had decided that the final decision on this will be taken by party’s national president, Honorable Chirag Paswan (sic).”

The letter continued: “You did not need to speak anything on this subject (sic). Therefore, you are relieved of your post with immediate effect till the next order and we are hopeful that in future you will follow the discipline of the party.”

Ram Vilas Paswan with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar in 2017. Photo: irvpaswan/Twitter

Given the content of this letter, which suggests that the LJP has not yet decided on what terms to join the NDA, it appears that the NDA is not “unbreakable” at the moment.

Bharti raised this very point in a conversation with The Wire. “I am the party’s foot soldier. Action against me was taken by the LJP supremo, Chirag Paswan. If the NDA is unbreakable, then why did the party act against me?” said Bharti.

“I spoke to Chiragji on the phone yesterday. He told me that since I was not authorised to make such statements, why did I make this comment to the media?” he added.

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Bharti was summoned to Delhi on July 3 to provide Paswan with a clarification regarding his ‘unbreakable’ statement. According to party sources, Paswan warned him not to speak about the alliance in public in the future.

High stakes

Bharti had made his statement on June 27, immediately after Chirag Paswan interacted with LJP leaders via a video conference. He now says that the statement he gave in the media was distorted by the press.

“What I actually I said was that our alliance with the BJP is unbreakable and we are preparing to contest all 243 seats in the Bihar assembly election,” Bharti told The Wire. “But the media wrote that the alliance with the NDA is unbreakable.”

According to an LJP leader who had participated in the video conference, Paswan told the party leaders to prepare to contest all 243 seats in the state. “He had also said that the swaroop (nature) of the alliance could change,” the party leader said.

Another LJP leader said, “LJP had been given six seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and we won them all. We are a big party in Bihar, so you cannot ignore us.”

“Our alliance with the BJP is unbreakable. But there are other parties in the NDA, including the JDU. Because of the JDU, LJP leaders and workers do not feel safe,” he said.

This indicates that the LJP desires a big stake in the NDA in Bihar. That the party is aiming big was also suggested by Paswan in a recent interview with a news channel. He had told the interviewer: “If I get a chance, I would definitely like to become the chief minister of Bihar.”

According to LJP leaders, Chirag Paswan wants as much attention in the NDA as Nitish Kumar and his JDU party are at the receiving end of. According to political observers, Paswan also recognises that this will not be possible as long as JDU remains with the NDA.

Addressing a virtual rally recently, Union home minister Amit Shah had said: “I want to end all rumours by declaring openly here that the next assembly elections in Bihar will be fought under the leadership of Nitish Kumar.”

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Shah’s statement clearly shows that for the BJP, the JDU is more important in the NDA than the LJP. Political analysts believe that the LJP’s action against Bharti is part of its exercise to gain a bigger role in the NDA. But they add that it is difficult to say how much the LJP will benefit from this.

LJP sources also said that the party wants 42 seats in the Bihar assembly election. In the 2015 assembly election, the JDU had not been part of the NDA. The LJP then had managed to contest 42 seats, but could win only two.

But now Nitish Kumar is part of the NDA and if political workers in the know are to be believed, he wants more seats than he had had in 2015, when the JDU was part of the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan. Then, the JDU got 101 seats, whereas in 2010, when Nitish was with the BJP, his party was given 102 seats.

(L-R) Chirag Paswan, Ram Vilas Paswan, Amit Shah, Nitish Kumar and Bhupendra Yadav in 2018. Photo: irvpaswan/Twitter

If Nitish manages to get more seats, then either the BJP or the LJP will have to sacrifice part of its own stake in the alliance. Given the BJP’s ambition to fight the Bihar elections on its own in the future, there is little chance that it will give up its own seats for Nitish. So chances are that the LJP will be forced to manage with fewer seats.

Nitish also does not want the LJP to be given much consideration in the NDA. This is why the LJP describes its alliance with the BJP as ‘unbreakable,’ but feels uncomfortable in the NDA.

LJP chief and MP Chirag Paswan did not respond to phone calls and messages from The Wire. However, the LJP principal general secretary Shahnawaz Ahmed Kaifi told The Wire, “On June 16-17, the party had authorised our national president, Chirag Paswan, to take decisions on the nature of the alliance, how many seats we would fight, with who the alliance would be, and so on. We had also decided to follow any decision he takes. So there was no need for any party leader to publicly say how many seats we are contesting and who we are going to ally with.”

When The Wire commented that the action against Bharti was being perceived as a rift in the NDA, he said: “Anyone is free to think anything.” Asked if a final decision had been taken on the alliance, he said, “Only Chiragji has the right to say anything about the alliance.”