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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Chirag Paswan’s long play in Bihar: Cut JD(U), help BJP get more — and be its future ally

Bihar elections: Not once has LJP’s Chirag Paswan blamed the BJP for not offering it "desired number of seats".

Written by Santosh Singh , Edited by Explained Desk | Patna |
Updated: October 6, 2020 7:47:53 am
The first sign of LJP's disquiet came early this year when Chirag Paswan launched his "Bihar First, Bihari First" yatra with a veiled attack on Nitish Kumar's government. (File photo)

BY slamming Nitish Kumar while exiting the NDA alliance in Bihar and yet praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, the Lok Janshakti Party has sent two key signals in the final countdown to the Assembly elections: it is sensing an anti-incumbency against Nitish and is helping the BJP leverage that to aim for the single largest party slot.

Both the JD(U) and the BJP downplayed the exit but the sequence of events shows that the BJP has looked the other way as the LJP campaigned to pull the JD(U) a few notches down. Even if this means giving the Opposition ammunition to target the Chief Minister.

Not once has LJP’s Chirag Paswan blamed the BJP for not offering it “desired number of seats”.

The LJP, which won just two seats in the House of 243 in the 2015 Assembly polls and got 4.83 per cent of the vote, won all six seats it contested in 2019 Lok Sabha polls – this was seen as the Modi factor at work.

By contesting 143 seats this time, it hopes to help BJP by cutting into JD(U) votes and rebuilding its organisational structure with an eye to the future.

An LJP leader said that the best case scenario for the party is to win “even 10-15 seats” by using the image of PM Narendra Modi and working with the BJP to grow into its next ally. This, the source said, could become crucial if BJP and JD(U) fail to get simple majority of 122.

The JD(U), hoping that it can repeat 2010 – aligned with the BJP it won 206 of 243 seats – is wary of LJP hurting its chances in at least a dozen seats. It is also aware that the RJD-led Opposition alliance will use every opportunity to twist the knife by playing this LJP “back-stab” to the hilt.

The BJP has always been the second party in the alliance – it has 53 seats in the outgoing House as compared to JD(U)’s 69 – and many in the party hope LJP’s exit could help it gain over its ally.

Not many are surprised here, though.

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The first sign of LJP’s disquiet came early this year when Chirag launched his “Bihar First, Bihari First” yatra with a veiled attack on Nitish Kumar’s government – he underlined his “Yuva Bihari” identity to contrast with what he indicated was the old and tired leadership (read Nitish).

At that time, he had told The Indian Express: “When something as basic as Dial100 (a number to seek police help) doesn’t work in the state, what’s the meaning of good governance?”

The LJP’s plan to contest 143 seats includes fielding a candidate in each seat being contested by JD(U). It hasn’t decided on what to do in seats where the BJP is contesting. Asked about that, party spokesperson Ashraf Ansari said: “There are several seats where margin of victory is between 5,000 to 10,000. This is where we can hurt the chances of JD (U) and can win a good number in a three-way fight”.

When asked about LJP’s exit, BJP national spokesperson Guru Prakash said: “It would not be appropriate for us to comment on the decision of the LJP. We will go to elections in the name of development in the last 15 years under the leadership of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi”.

The JD(U) put up a brave face. State working president Ashok Kumar Choudhary said: “LJP leaving the NDA alliance will have no impact. But I want to know what ideological differences LJP has with us. We have increased budget for Dalit welfare manifold. It is the same LJP who insisted on Nitish Kumar campaigning for their candidates in the last Lok Sabha polls.”

However, some JD(U) leaders said the LJP could adopt its previous strategy of fielding upper-caste candidates where “we would have OBC or EBC candidates.”

Also read | Against JD(U), yet with BJP: making sense of LJP strategy ahead of Bihar elections

In fact, LJP had done so successfully in 2005 February polls in which it had won 29 seats, said a party leader. Of the 178 seats it contested in those elections, LJP polled 13.62 per cent votes.

In the 2005 October Assembly polls, it won 10 seats of the 203 it contested and polled 11.10 per cent votes. In 2010 Assembly polls (in Grand Alliance), it got three seats of 75 contested and polled 6.74 per cent votes.

These numbers are small and LJP leaders said they are looking at the long game. The party believes that this is the last state election of the older generation of Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and even Sushil Kumar Modi.

With RJD’s Tejashwi Prasad facing his acid test this time and Kanhaiya Kumar unclear about his role, Chirag, sources said, sees his opportunity to emerge as a Bihar leader. For that, he may have to live in BJP’s shadow for a while — and this exit could be an important first step on that long road.

Also Read | Bihar elections: After hard bargain, BJP, JD(U) may contest equal number of seats

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