The unresolved political cleavage between the national presidents of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and the Janata Dal (United) didn’t seem to augur well for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar.
The discordant notes between Chirag Paswan and Nitish Kumar were heard much before the death of Ram Vilas Paswan, the founder of the LJP and Chirag’s father. However, the political observers were confident that through the intervention of the heavyweight leaders of the BJP, the principal political party of the ruling coalition at the center, the rift between the two might be patched up. Apparently, it didn’t happen.
Chirag is now seen to have made a calculated and smart move. Affirming the LJP as a constituent of the NDA, he declared that his party wouldn’t field candidates against the BJP’s. However, he wouldn’t hesitate to do so against the JD(U) since his party wasn’t committed to Nitish Kumar as an alliance partner. How did he expect the voters of Bihar to get blinded to the reality that the JD(U) was an alliance partner of the NDA and any damage done to the alliance would be detrimental to the BJP and to the prospect of the NDA coming back to power?
It has also been rumored that Chirag took this decision with the blessings of the BJP leaders in Delhi who might use him and his LJP to browbeat Nitish Kumar and eventually foist their own candidate as the Chief Minister.
On the surface, the difference between Chirag and Nitish was over the allocation of number of seats for the 2020 Vidhan Sabha election. Chirag’s demands weren’t conceded. In 2015, out of the 243 total seats, the LJP was given 42, but it could win only two. The JD(U) was then a part of the opposition alliance, the Mahagathbandhan, which had decisively defeated the NDA.
This time around, the altered alliance system had Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and the BJP again on the one side and the rest of the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) -- consisting mainly of Lalu Yadav’s RJD and the Congress -- on the other. Both the competing coalitions, the NDA and the GA (Grand Alliance), had a few additions: Whereas Jitan Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and Mukesh Sahni’s Vikassheel Insaaf Party (VIP) were taken in by the NDA, the Left Parties (from the CPI to the CPI ML) got aligned with the GA.
Chirag’s LJP, being a partner in the central government, was expected to be a part of the NDA team contesting election to the Bihar Legislative Assembly. But, in defiance, he launched his party into the fray fielding candidates in more than 120 constituencies.
Against Chirag’s strange political maneuver, surprisingly, the top central leadership of the BJP didn’t take a firm stand that would have meant asking his LJP to withdraw from the NDA. Perhaps, they restrained themselves for a couple of reasons: First, the founder of the LJP, Ram Vilas Paswan was, until his recent death, a member of the Prime Minister’s cabinet and expulsion of the LJP from the NDA at this time would have hurt the Paswan (a Scheduled Caste) voters in Bihar -- Chirag might have played sympathy and a victim card both more vigorously.
Secondly, close on the heels of the walk out of the Akali Dal from the central government and the NDA over the issue of the Farm Bill, the BJP would have preferred to avoid the appearance of a continued disintegration of the NDA. The BJP could only satisfy itself by asking Chirag not to use the image of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his election campaign.
Alongside the NDA, the GA and the LJP, there was yet another cluster of political parties in the electoral arena: A newly-created front that comprised of Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), the Janatantrik Party, the Samajwadi Janata Dal (Democratic) and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP).
The positioning of multiple fronts notwithstanding, the electoral politics of Bihar would never rise above the personality-centered caste politics. The political parties, particularly the regional ones, revolved around a caste leader. Therefore, the voters “wouldn’t necessarily cast a vote”, they would “vote caste”.
Although belonging to the supposedly intelligent millennial generation, the semi-educated and dynast politicians like Chirag Paswan or Tejaswi Yadav did receive the caste-cum-political fiefdoms of their fathers as patrimony. However, as a legacy, they also inherited jealousy and bad blood among them.
Ram Vilas Paswan’s enmity against Nitish Kumar went back to 1990 when the latter put his weight behind Lalu Yadav to prevent Ram Vilas from becoming the Chief Minister of Bihar. Since then, Ram Vilas gave up his ambition in state politics and stayed at the center.
In 2000, the 13-day old minority government of Nitish Kumar couldn’t survive after the joint request made by the JD(U) and the BJP to the LJP leader for support was turned down. In revenge, Nitish regularly induced the LJP legislators over to his side and stymied the growth of their legislative strength in Bihar.
In the February 2005 Vidhan Sabha election, however, the LJP made a dent in the coalition of the RJD by garnering 12.3 percent of the popular votes and causing the governing Lalu-Rabri castle to crash.
The fear of the NDA in this election cycle must be that with the image of a handsome young leader coupled with the sympathy of his father’s base and anti-incumbency sentiments, Chirag’s LJP might walk away with enough votes to make yet another dent in the ruling coalition and deny Nitish Kumar a fourth term.
Chirag’s list is loaded with disgruntled rebels of all stripes who in alliance with others could prove as spoilers, the real consequential ‘vote-katwas.’
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.