Sometime before the 2015 Assembly election, then Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) president and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan was sitting at his Srikrishna Puri residence in Patna, meeting visitors, asking about their well-being and discussing politics. In the next room, the new member of Parliament from Jamui Chirag Paswan was speaking to a group of LJP workers. “Chirag ne ab sab sambhaal liya hai (Chirag has taken care of everything now),” said the proud father.
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When told that his son looks too urban, without his father’s connect to the grassroots, senior Paswan smiled to say that it was because he had studied in Delhi. And while Chirag contests from Jamui, far from Paswan’s bastion Hajipur, he is very well-connected with his paternal village of Shaharbanni in Khagaria and a fast learner of Bihar’s political semantics, added his father.
Paswan was an intuitive, perceptive and calm leader, the quintessential old-school politician who had friends across party lines. After a 51-year career, the “weathervane” of Indian politics, who had served as a minister in the cabinets of six prime ministers (as the Union minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution in his last role), passed away last week. While emotions for the socialist legend would run high during the poll campaign, with his father no more, all eyes are now on the two-time Jamui MP and LJP national president Chirag.
The 2020 Assembly polls would be the first real test for the one-film old actor-turned-politician for two reasons. First, he would be in the field without his father for the first time. Second, with LJP having officially walked out of the NDA alliance in Bihar (LJP is contesting on 143 seats, with its candidates against JD(U) nominees on most seats), there will be no direct blessing from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This election is going to be a litmus test for Chirag’s lofty “Bihar First, Bihari First” mission against the tried-and-tested and much-experienced Nitish Kumar. All of Chirag’s social-media-account handles have been prefixed with “Yuva Bihari”. Much of this posturing has been followed by incessant attacks on the Chief Minister’s governance record.
Chirag, 37, however, is no longer a rookie, having learnt the art of political correctness in the company of veterans. He is ambitious and does not want to play a bit part in the long run. Before snapping ties with the Nitish-led NDA, he had impressed upon his workers that it was the last Assembly polls of the older generation of socialist leaders – Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar – and that the future would belong to the younger generation. This election seems more of a kind of investment for the next.
His argument is that contesting 20-30 seats would anyway yield two-three MLAs, so it is better to rebuild LJP and give it a pan-Bihar appeal by contesting on more seats.
Paswan had given his son a free hand and allowed for a power transfer before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when he had rejoined NDA on the advice of Chirag. The move proved a political hit – LJP won six of the seven seats it contested and emerged as the second-largest party behind BJP. Last year, the ailing senior Paswan stepped down and Chirag was elected LJP national president.
Not too long ago, though, Chirag had set his sights elsewhere. The engineering graduate made his Bollywood debut with Mile Naa Miley Hum (2011), starring the current talk-of-the-tinsel-town Kangana Ranaut. The movie tanked, though its song Katto gilehri did make some waves.
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Back home, his father had other plans. Chirag had earlier got a chance to campaign for senior Paswan in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls in Hajipur, though Paswan lost that election to 87-year-old Ram Sunder Das of JD(U).
LJP had hit a low in the Grand Alliance and Paswan, for the first time since his debut in Delhi since 1989, was not a Union minister. With a heart ailment detected in 2013, power was transferred to his son, who reworked his father’s politics by joining NDA and won both the 2014 and 2019 elections.
While BJP, now, may be using LJP as its stepping stone to emerge as the single-largest party, the onus still lies on Chirag to prove himself, for which he needs to win 8-10 seats in this poll. If JD(U)’s strength is dwindled because of him, he would still call it a success.
About 4.5 per cent of the Paswan community has rallied behind BJP, with some exceptions, and LJP’s 5-12 per cent vote share since 2005 is ample proof of the party’s influence. Chirag needs to put to work his father’s tips about the power game, and decide whether to do politics at the Centre, like senior Paswan, or focus on the state.
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