For the past three decades, Bihar politics has been dominated by the political triumvirate – Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan. They have changed the political discourse and altered the paradigm of political philosophy from the centrist ideology to subaltern politics leading to the establishment of the rule of the hitherto deprived sections of the society.
Of the trio, Ram Vilas Paswan has shared power at the Centre as senior-most member of the union cabinet for more than two decades but he has never got a chance to become the chief minister of Bihar – a dream he has nourished ever since he joined politics in the late 1960s.
Guided mainly by sentiments of their respective castes, they have also fought internecine battles among themselves for achieving political power in Bihar and securing adequate share in power at the Centre.
The current political battle between the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and the Janata Dal (United) is the culmination of Paswan’s desire to have his way in Bihar politics. With his son Chirag Paswan in the front, Ram Vilas Paswan has taken on Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar in the fight for carving out a broader political space and share in power.
Paswan, backed by the BJP, appears keen on trouncing the JD (U) as he firmly believes that his caste base is wider than that of Nitish Kumar. Of the 16 per cent population of the Scheduled Castes, the Paswan or Dusadh constitute nearly five per cent while the Kurmis constitute only two per cent of the total votes.
As a Dalit leader, Paswan has emerged as a powerful force and deeply influenced the electoral course in Bihar. He enjoys strong clout among Bihar’s Scheduled Castes, particularly the militant Dusadh community. He not only championed the cause of the Dalit community but also took their political aspirations to the national level.
He has also projected himself as the most suitable candidate for a Dalit Prime Minister. “Goonje Dharti Aasman, Ram Vilas Paswan,” is the slogan his supporters cry in every public meeting, appealing people to vote for the LJP so that Paswan becomes the next Prime Minister.
The maverick Paswan, who has also been a key player in the government formation at the Centre, is so adept in making political compromises that he has been a member of the union cabinet in various coalition governments at the Centre: the National Front, the United Front of the non-Congress and non-BJP parties, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
When the Congress brought down the Deve Gowda government in 1997, Paswan’s name had figured for the Prime Minister’s post but the choice finally fell on a seasoned leader, IK Gujral, who was then the external affairs minister.
Paswan has been able to tilt the balance in favour of the political combinations he sided with. In the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, when he was with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Paswan ensured more than 40 Lok Sabha seats out of 54 to the NDA in the united Bihar, which was then under the Lalu-Rabri regime. His association helped the NDA, paving the way for the installation of AB Vajpayee as the Prime Minister and severely damaged the RJD-Congress alliance led by Lalu Prasad.
Paswan eventually founded the LJP after breaking away from the Janata Dal in 2000. He was with NDA and a minister in the Vajpayee government but he quit to press for the dismissal of the Narendra Modi government in the wake of the Gujarat riots in 2002.
The LJP’s first foray into electoral politics was in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls in the company of Lalu and Congress as part of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The RJD-led alliance won 33 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in the divided Bihar leaving the NDA high and dry.
But in the two assembly polls within a span of nine months in 2005, Paswan fought on his own. In February, it was a hung assembly and Paswan’s LJP had the key of government formation with 29 assembly seats. But he chose not to support either the BJP-led NDA or the RJD-Congress combine, leading to imposition of President’s rule in the state.
In the November 2005 polls, Paswan’s LJP was confined to 10 seats in the 243-member Bihar Assembly. However, it ensured the RJD’s defeat in at least 40 seats, paving the way for Nitish Kumar to form the NDA government.
Paswan lost the 2009 Lok Sabha elections from his political turf Hajipur, which he had won by a record margin in 1977. The LJP had contested the 2009 parliamentary polls in an alliance called the Fourth Front, constituting the RJD and Samajwadi Party.
It was a disastrous move as the LJP could not win even a single seat while the RJD won four seats. The LJP had also suffered a major jolt when its entire Jharkhand unit merged with the Congress before 2009, forcing Paswan to announce dissolution of the party’s Jharkhand unit.
In the 2010 Bihar assembly election, Paswan had contested in alliance with the RJD against the resurgent NDA comprising the BJP and JD (U). However, the LJP could win only three seats, securing 6.75 per cent votes against the November 2005 poll tally of 10 seats. Eventually, two of the three MLAs of the LJP merged with the ruling JD(U).
Before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Paswan waited for nearly two months for the Congress to seal a pre-poll alliance. But two months of negotiations reached nowhere. Instead, the CBI trailed him in the recruitment scam in Bokaro Steel Plant.
In a swift move, a self-proclaimed champion of secularism, Paswan suddenly found nothing wrong with BJP prime ministerial pick Narendra Modi, for whom he had quit the union cabinet in 2002. “The courts found nothing against him in the Godhra riots,” he had said.
Backed and forced by his actor-turned-politician son Chirag Paswan, who was installed as chairman of LJP’s parliamentary board just before the polls, Paswan joined hands with his erstwhile ally, the BJP, and sealed a pre-poll alliance on seven seats. It won six of the seven seats it contested.
In the 2015 assembly election, the LJP had contested 40 out of 243 assembly seats in alliance with the BJP as part of the NDA but it could win only two seats. The JD(U) had joined hands with the RJD as part of the Mahagathbandhan, which had swept the polls. When Nitish switched over to the NDA again in 2017, Paswan’s younger brother Pashupati Kumar Paras was inducted into the new Nitish Kumar cabinet.
Paswan was elected to the Bihar state assembly in 1969 as a member of the Samyukta Socialist Party. He was attracted to the Maoist philosophy and was once imprisoned for his ‘activities’ in 1970. In 1974, he became a follower of Jayaprakash Narayan and was jailed during the Emergency.
The biggest drawback of Paswan has been his failure to build a strong social base among other castes and instead promoting criminals-turned-politicians facing charges of murder, kidnapping, extortion and loot.
The LJP is also known in political circles as the ‘Brother-Son Party’ controlled by Paswan, his younger brothers, and now his son Chirag Paswan. Paswan’s younger brother Ramchandra Paswan had won from the Samastipur seat. However, he passed away and now his son Prince Raj has been elected in the by-elections.
A computer engineer by profession, Chirag had tried his luck in movies before making the inevitable switch to politics in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from the Jamui constituency.
Chirag had debuted in a romantic drama ‘Miley Naa Miley Hum’ opposite Kangana Ranaut but the movie crashed at the box office. Since politics ‘flows in his blood’, he took command of the LJP his father formed in 2000.
Soon after his foray into politics, Chirag displayed his political skills and became the chairman of the LJP parliamentary board, a post his father used to hold during elections in the past. He has been tirelessly campaigning in different parts of Bihar to revive the LJP.
Now, with full backing of his father, Chirag takes all important decisions and has taken on Nitish Kumar on issues ranging from poor law and order to mishandling of the coronavirus crisis.
Since Ram Vilas Paswan is referred to as ‘Mausam Vigyani’ of Indian politics due to his frequent switchovers from one alliance to the other and his reported abilities to sense the mood of the electorate, the belligerent attitude of his son is being viewed as an indication of future course of politics in Bihar.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal)
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