The NDA has started pushing harder than ever for a consolidation of Paswan votes ahead of the next phase of polling in Bihar, which includes seven seats. Hajipur (SC), Ujiyarpur, Saran, Sheohar, Sitamarhi, Maharajganj and Muzaffarpur go to polls on May 7.
Scheduled Caste Paswans account for over five per cent of the state population. Ujiyarpur alone has over two lakh Paswans, known as traditional rivals of Yadavs. And BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi has held public meetings there, besides in Hajipur, Sheohar and Chhapra (Saran), all targeted at consolidation of the Paswan votes.
The acrimony between the Yadavs and the Paswans had subsided during the RJD-LJP alliance in the last LS and Vidhan Sabha elections, but the two have since split and many Paswans are now aggressovely rallying behind the BJP-led NDA. “First, we have seldom been on the same side of the political divide. Now that our caste leader and national Dalit face Ramvilas Paswan is with BJP, we have all the more reason to vote as a block in response to the Yadav vote consolidating in RJD favour,” said Mukesh Paswan, a Hajipur resident.
Paswan voters are upset with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his JD(U) for leaving them out of the Mahadalits list that includes all Bihar Scheduled Caste groups excluding this most dominant block after Ravidas. Nitish government had started about a dozen schemes such as free distribution of land to landless Mahadalits to build houses, benefiting over 3 lakh families so far.
LJP chief Ramvilas Paswan often speaks against categorisation of Mahadalits by Nitish.
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A senior BJP leader said: “Our field reports post-polling in 27 constituencies suggested solid Paswan support in our favour. This can convert into victories on seats having triangular contest. Though the Paswan population varies from 50,000 to two lakh in a constituency, they can change the equation in our favour.”
Amit Paswan, a driver, said: “It is Narendra Modi all the way for us. I have spoken to my relatives in Naubatpur in Pataliputra and they voted for BJP. We have hopes of regaining our caste pride with LJP’s chances of winning some seats. If Ramvilas Paswan becomes minister, we will feel empowered. It is about pride just as Yadavs desperately want Lalu back”.
BJP Scheduled Caste Morcha national president and former Union Minister Sanjay Paswan told The Indian Express: “While Ramvilas Paswan coming with us is an important factor, stronger hints of Paswan consolidation with NDA is because of their neglect by ruling political class for years. They are also very religious and somewhat influenced by the nationalistic ideology of Narendra Modi”.