Updated: June 21, 2021 12:02:16 pm
Five MPs of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) have turned against the sixth, the party’s national president Chirag Paswan, and have elected Chirag’s uncle, Hajipur MP Pashupati Kumar Paras, the LJP’s leader in Lok Sabha.
The ‘new’ LJP has announced its intention to return to the NDA in Bihar, reversing Chirag’s decision to walk away from the alliance ahead of the Assembly elections in the state last year.
The dramatic developments over the past two days have seen Chirag lose control over the party that his father, the late Ram Vilas Paswan, founded over two decades ago, and have presented him with a set of difficult political choices here onward.
How did this situation come about?
The party Paswan founded
Paswan, former Union Minister and the senior most of the Bihar trio of charismatic politicians that also comprises Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, formed his own party in November 2000.
The old Janata parivar had disintegrated. Sharad Yadav had formed the Janata Dal (United), George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar were part of the Samata Party, and Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) was ruling Bihar.
Paswan, then the leader of the apolitical Dalit Sena, saw an opportunity to form a party of Dalits to create his own political space in the OBC-centric politics of Bihar. Paswan’s own caste was estimated to constitute only around 5 per cent of the population of the state, but his Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) added a new force to the mix of identity politics in the heartland.
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Mostly on the winning side
The first Assembly election after the formation of the LJP presented an opportunity to Paswan, and was a test for the new political party.
Bihar was beginning to get exhausted with Lalu’s politics of caste with little development, and the NDA was still not a very powerful force — and the fledgling LJP won 29 seats in the elections held in February 2005.
In the hung Assembly, Paswan seemed to hold the key to the formation of the government, either by Lalu or by the NDA. His recalcitrance and insistence on a Muslim being made Chief Minister, however, cost him his advantage.
After a brief period of President’s Rule, Bihar saw another Assembly election in October-November 2005. This time, Paswan’s LJP was reduced to nine seats.
Paswan, however, managed to remain visible on the national stage continuously from 1999 to 2009, serving as Minister in the governments of Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.
He lost his Hajipur seat to Ram Sundar Das of the JD(U) in 2009, but was elected to Rajya Sabha the following year. In the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, he won back Hajipur, and became a Minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Paswan retained his place in the second Modi Ministry. He returned to Rajya Sabha with the BJP’s help in 2019.
Chirag in party and politics
Chirag, Paswan’s part-time actor son, joined active politics by 2013.
Paswan doted on Chirag, and it was on the advice of his son that he joined Modi’s coalition in 2014 — climbing down from the ideological high ground that had seen him walk out of the NDA in protest against the Gujarat riots of 2002.
The LJP won six of the seven seats it contested; Chirag himself entered Lok Sabha from Jamui. Within the party, Chirag was made chairman of the parliamentary party, a position that was created for him to send out a clear message on succession and inheritance of Ram Vilas Paswan’s political legacy.
Paswan’s two younger brothers, Pashupati Kumar Paras and Ram Chandra Paswan (who died soon after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections), silently watched Chirag’s rise in the party.
They made no public statements on Chirag’s elevation and growing assertion in the party. Privately however, Pashupati Kumar Paras, who had never been taken as a bright politician, spoke against his nephew’s “arrogance and inaccessibility”. But Ram Vilas Paswan held the family and party together.
Bihar Assembly elections
With Ram Vilas Paswan’s health failing, Chirag had taken firm control of party affairs before the 2020 Assembly polls. Paswan had made him the party’s national president, and he had made his cousin and Samastipur MP Prince Raj the state president of the LJP.
The ailing Paswan backed his son on whatever decisions he took. Paswan wanted Chirag to grow, and often said he did not want his son to be stunted in his banyan shade.
But even the senior Paswan was unsure about Chirag’s decision to leave the NDA and take on Nitish Kumar. He passed away before the elections, leaving Chirag and the LJP to chart their own course.
The likes of Pashupati Kumar Paras did not want to take on Nitish. Paras shared a warm relationship with the Chief Minister, who had obliged him by making him an MLC and Minister before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
But even so, the chances of a rebellion were kept under check as long as the Assembly election results were not out.
Things changed sharply once the results were declared. The LJP, which had a history of getting between 5 and 12 per cent of the vote in previous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, got less than 1 per cent of the vote, and just one seat.
The JD(U) did suffer losses because of Chirag cutting some of its votes, but Chirag himself became a non-entity all of a sudden, at least in state politics.
But Chirag still claimed to be part of the NDA at the Centre — and waited for a ministerial berth for its six MPs. The BJP, however, chose to tread a cautious path.
The BJP did not want to do anything that could displease Nitish, least of all include Chirag in the Union Ministry. It was clear that such a step would be fraught with the danger of confirming the impression that Chirag’s anti-Nitish play during the Assembly polls had the BJP’s backing.
Time for Paras to strike
Chirag’s uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras had been waiting for the right time to strike. He took some time to convince the four other MPs of the party to dump Chirag.
Paras knew that his nephew Prince Raj would be hard to win over. However, Prince too had been sulking since Chirag appointed Raju Tiwari the party’s state working president in order to curtail the powers of Prince, the state president.
Once Prince had gone over to Paras’s side, the rebellion within the Paswan family was mature and complete.
Paras also knew that Nawada MP Chandan Kumar, brother of former muscleman MP Suraj Bhan, would be tough to crack as well. Bhan was always known as a Ram Vilas loyalist.
When he was alive, Ram Vilas Paswan would often be told about the “overriding” influence that Pandey had on Chirag. Pandey faced allegations of ensuring that Chirag was not accessible even to his MPs.
Once Veena Devi, whose husband incidentally is a JD(U) leader, and the wavering Kaiser had been won over, Paras’s operation was complete. Working behind the scenes were two JD(U) leaders, Munger MP Rajiv Ranjan (Lalan) Singh, and MLA Maheshwar Hazari, who is also a relative of the Paswans.
After the Assembly election drubbing, Chirag had been spending most of his time in Delhi. He had also been unwell for some time. As he took his eyes away from his detractors, the ground was being cut from under his feet.
What now for Chirag
Paras is likely to meet the Election Commission soon to stake claim to the ‘real’ LJP and its symbol.
Chirag has two options: he can either try to reconcile with his uncle and accept a diminished role in his own party, or he can fight a battle before the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Election Commission, apart from fighting Paras politically.
But either way, Chirag Paswan has to endure the humiliation of having his father’s gift being snatched away from him. He can go to the people and work at regaining the political constituency of his father. But it will be a long haul.
The BJP has been silent over Chirag’s crisis. Perhaps he took steps much bigger than what his political stature and experience could handle.
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