The caste votes Ramvilas Paswan brings are the foremost of the BJP’s calculations in allying with him, though they are not the only reason.
The Paswan votes add up to six per cent in Bihar, spread across constituencies. “Even if Paswan voters do not move as a unit with Ramvilasji, a transfer of two or three per cent of the votes will convert into a higher number of seats for us,” says Sanjay Paswan, national president of the BJP’s scheduled caste morcha.
In 2009, when the BJP contested 15 of 40 seats in alliance with the JD(U), it polled 13.93 per cent of Bihar’s votes. The six per cent Paswan votes are concentrated the highest in Hajipur, Samastipur, Ujiyarpur, Begusarai, Darbhanga, Madhepura, Sitamarhi and Madhubani. Every Bihar seat has a Paswan population, with at least 15 of them counting 50,000 to 2 lakh Paswan voters. The LJP in 2009 polled 6.55 per cent of the statewide total, having contested only in 12 seats, of which it won none.
Among other gains for the BJP, Paswan’s arrival allows it to flaunt as a Narendra Modi supporter the same man who, in 2002, had been the first union minister to quit the NDA government over Modi’s alleged role in the Gujarat riots. The partnership also brings a national Dalit face to the BJP, which will use the Paswan symbolism against Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s “ultra-Dalit” politics. Paswans are Bihar’s second largest scheduled caste but the only one Nitish hasn’t counted among Mahadalits.
“The LJP too stands to gain, from the Narendra Modi factor and the traditional support base of the BJP,” Sanjay Paswan tells The Indian Express.
Paswans, along with the Ravidas caste, account for 80 per cent of the scheduled caste votes in Bihar, according to the BJP leader’s estimate. They have been known to vote aggressively in support of the community leader the same way most Yadavs have been voting for Lalu Prasad. “There is a Modi wave. If there was any hesitation among Paswans about voting in his name, now Ramvilas Paswan’s being with us will clear those doubts,” Sanjay Paswan says.
LJP sources say they would have stood little hope of their votes converting into seats in the company of the RJD. “In alliance with the RJD, we fought 12 Lok Sabha seats and could not win any. Of 75 assembly seats contested in 2010, we won only three,” says a Paswan aide. “When our leader Ramvilas could not win from Hajipur, we knew few of the RJD votes had been transferred to us. This will certainly change with our alliance with BJP.”
The LJP has been given seven seats but BJP legislature party leader Sushil Kumar Modi says the alliance goes beyond that. “When we enter into an alliance, we don’t judge things in terms of seats alone,” Sushil Modi says. “We take into consideration a larger picture, and symbolism.”