A fortnight ago, as Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan was being admitted to a Delhi hospital with multiple complications, he had tweeted that he would stand by any decision his son Chirag Paswan took on Bihar. It was a strong signal from the LJP patriarch that put to rest all speculation about whether he was uneasy over his son Chirag’s aggressive posturing against Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.
Ram Vilas Paswan’s death in New Delhi on Thursday, days before Bihar votes in the first phase on October 28, will inevitably cast a shadow on the crucial polls, and have a bearing on almost every political move by the key players.
While the BJP has anyway handled Chirag with kid gloves so far even as he has walked out of the NDA in Bihar and openly taken on Nitish Kumar, the NDA’s chief ministerial face, with the death of its long-time ally Paswan, the party will be even more cautious about any overt criticism of the LJP.
As for the LJP national president Chirag, who has taken a leap of faith by fighting the elections alone, his father’s death leaves him in an extremely delicate position.
Four days before the 74-year-old’s death, a senior LJP leader had described the father-son’s politics as complementing each other. “Even though he is unwell, the mere presence of Ram Vilasji reassures the Dalit voter, especially the Dusadh (Paswans). He won his first election in 1969. Since then, he has always been a man of the people, making phone calls, keeping old relationships. The way he talked, or carried himself never changed. He is the tallest Paswan leader ever. His son Chirag is the boy who went to Bollywood, but now is creating his own space. He speaks English well, and can pull in the youth and is positioning himself as such. They complement each other,” the senior leader had said.
Now, with one pillar of that edifice gone, political leaders in Bihar say there could be consequences for the LJP.
A senior JD(U) leader said Paswan’s death has left all of Bihar, even his political opponents, in grief. “That is how big he was. Paswan did not put off anyone. His death will have no effect on the votes that the LJP wanted from anti-incumbency. But the question is of the core Dalit voter. There are two possibilities. One, that they may rally behind his son who clearly was his chosen one. But there is also the question that Chirag is a two-time MP, less grounded among people, a big city boy. Will the core Dalit voter trust him? Which of these two scenarios play out will be crucial for the LJP’s fortunes,” he said.
When Chirag hits the campaign run, emotions will inevitably run high. While it remains to be seen whether there is any sympathy factor that will translate into votes for the LJP, Paswan’s death may win over some who may have been put off by Chirag’s man-in-a-hurry attitude.
There was never, however, any doubt in Paswan’s mind over Chirag being his political heir. He has always played the indulgent father as his son spoke of rebooting LJP’s politics. Paswan had proudly claimed that the LJP’s Anglicised political slogan, “Bihar First, Bihari First”, was Chirag’s idea.
In fact, Paswan had started transferring power to his son soon after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. After the LJP won six of the seven seats it contested that election, he had made Chirag chairman of the party’s parliamentary board. A few months ago, Chirag took over as the party’s national president. Whenever the media asked the father-son duo if Chirag hoped to become Bihar CM someday, it would always be the father who answered with a straightforward “yes”.
With the LJP now contesting 143 seats on its own, Chirag may well invoke his father’s achievements as Union minister and his great connect with the people of Bihar. After Karpoori Thakur, Paswan was the only politician who was equally acceptable among upper-castes and his core Paswan voters. With the LJP fielding several upper-caste candidates this time, invoking Paswan will only help the LJP cause.
The JD(U), on its part, can only ask its workers to be cautious. The party knows it cannot say anything that may boomerang on it.
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