In 2005, when his party had held the key to forming the Bihar government, Ramvilas Paswan had insisted on a Muslim chief minister in return for his support. Three years earlier, he had quit the NDA over the Gujarat riots. His current flirtation with the BJP does not, however, reflect any change in ideology, for he has never followed any rigidly. It is rather a measure of the depths to which his stock has fallen.
His LJP is today left with only one seat in the assembly. At its 2005 peak, it had 29 of 243, but his stance forced a fresh election that brought Nitish Kumar to power. The LJP then had four MPs, its highest strength in the Lok Sabha, but today has none, having lost even Paswan’s stronghold of Hajipur.
Paswan, 68, has found himself at the mercy of the RJD and the Congress in deciding seat shares. With the Congress demanding 12, the RJD is said to be willing to yield the LJP five but only two of Paswan’s choice (see box). With the BJP, Paswan believes he can swing a bargain of seven, most of these of his choice.
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A large section of the LJP believes the party has suffered in the RJD’s company. “Paswanji lost from Hajipur only because the Yadav votes were not transferred to him. And in 2010, the LJP won only three assembly seats” (two MLAs have since left the LJP), said a party leader.
To the BJP, an alliance is about the caste votes rather than the seats the partner can bring. “Paswanji will surely bring great value to the BJP,” legislature party leader Sushil Kumar Modi said. Former minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey disagrees, saying an alliance with Paswan would be suicidal, but the majority view in the BJP is Paswan will ensure about four per cent of the votes, SC, and the BJP can play up his support against the JD(U)’s Mahadalit card.
For the RJD, spokesperson Randhir Yadav said: “We cannot imagine Paswanji can go with BJP. It is a question of ideology.” And AICC spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said: “We don’t believe Paswanji is going anywhere. He left the (NDA) because of the 2002 riots; how can he accept Narendra Modi? Maybe it is political posturing. We are not creating any hurdles for him.”
Paswan is a veteran who became an MLA in 1969, years before Lalu Prasad or Nitish had even entered politics. Political observers note how he has been on “the side of power most of the time”. He was a minister in V P Singh’s government, held railways in the United Front government between 1996 and 1998, and crossed over to the NDA and became a minister under A B Vajpayee. He quit the JD(U) to form the LJP in 2002, joined hands with the Congress in 2004 and became a minister again. It is now the longest time since 1996 that he has been out of power.
Today he is in the Rajya Sabha with RJD support. He has made Chirag, his son, the party’s parliamentary board chairman.