Ending speculation, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan signalled on Wednesday that his party was set to return to the BJP-led NDA ahead of the coming Lok Sabha polls. Paswan had quit his ministerial berth and walked out of the alliance in 2002, in protest against the Gujarat riots.
Ending a decade-old alliance with Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) over differences in seat-sharing, Paswan said his party’s parliamentary board had authorised him to look for “all possible alternatives”. Indicating his choice, he dismissed the idea of a Third Front.
Addressing a press conference, he said, “Now that we are not part of the alliance (with RJD), we are looking for other options. All options are now open. The BJP is an option. A number of members in our parliamentary board are in favour of joining the NDA…I have been empowered to take tough decisions for the sake of protecting the party’s existence.”
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He said a formal announcement would be made “in a day or two”. The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, will be in Delhi over the next two days and a meeting between the two leaders is not being ruled out. It is learnt that while the BJP has offered seven seats, the LJP is negotiating for eight seats.
“We have been waiting for the Congress to take a decision on seat-sharing. I met Sonia Gandhi and C P Joshi (AICC general secretary in charge of Bihar) twice, but there was a deadlock. They did not seem serious about it. A small party like us needs more time to prepare for elections so we needed clarity on seats and alliances, which was not coming from their side,” said Paswan.
According to sources, Paswan sent party general secretary Abdul Khaliq to Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel for a last-ditch effort last week. But Patel reportedly told Khaliq that the RJD did not want to give the LJP more than three-four seats.
“We had our grievances with the RJD for a long time. I even went to meet Lalu Prasad in jail. But soon after he was released, RJD leaders started saying LJP should be given three seats. That is why we left it to the Congress to decide on seat-sharing. I waited for months, but there was no decision,” he said.
Reacting to Paswan’s announcement, BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said, “The LJP has come out with its view, the BJP leadership will take a view on it. He (Paswan) has mentioned BJP is an option, the central leadership of the party will take a call… We will try to connect with whoever supports Modi as the Prime Minister.”
After Paswan first sent feelers to the BJP less than a fortnight back, it was Hussain who called on him last week. Both BJP president Rajnath Singh and party general secretary in charge of Bihar Dharmendra Pradhan were aware about the meeting.
Sources said while Paswan spoke to the BJP chief on the phone, his son, Chirag, who heads the LJP’s parliamentary board, met Singh. Modi was also kept in the loop. The back-channel negotiations between the two parties picked pace after the parliament session ended on Friday.
When Singh sought the state party unit’s opinion, Bihar BJP chief Mangal Pandey was reportedly wary about any tie-up with the LJP, while Sushil Modi and Nandkishore Yadav indicated their favourable disposition, citing electoral pragmatism.
As both LJP leader Surajbhan Singh and the BJP’s Sushil Modi hinted at an alliance on Sunday, Bihar BJP leaders like C P Thakur, Rameshwar Chaurasia, Ashwani Chaubey and Amarendra Pratap voiced their opposition. They were called to Delhi, where Singh met them separately on Tuesday evening.
The BJP chief also held deliberations with party leaders from the state, including Shahnawaz Hussain, Mangal Pandey, Nandkishore Yadav, Sushil Modi, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Bihar in-charge Dharmendra Pradhan, on Tuesday.
“We hope to present the new NDA in Bihar at our Muzaffarpur rally on March 3,” said a senior party leader. According to the plan, Paswan came out in public on Wednesday, declaring that the BJP was an option for his party.
While LJP sources admitted that the move could dent its Muslim vote bank, they said they would, however, gain the upper-class and traders’ votes. “The LJP will stick to its ideology. There is no need to tell the world that Ram Vilas Paswan is secular,” said Paswan. With Lalu convicted in a corruption case, the LJP is also hoping to get the Yadav votes.
The BJP, on the other hand, hopes to offset the loss of JD(U) and its lower caste support base by roping in Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) and the LJP. Moreover, if Paswan re-joins the NDA, it will help the BJP reject opponents’ claims of the party being isolated because of Modi’s projection as Prime Minister.