The Bihar assembly election 2020 was pegged to be his coming of age test. Chirag Paswan, to whom his father Ram Vilas Paswan had passed on the baton of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in his lifetime, was left to plough a lonely furrow in the absence of the wise counsel of his father, the redoubtable Dalit leader from Bihar with a national appeal, who died a few days before the polls.
Chirag, the sitting Lok Sabha MP from Jamui, has always faced the daunting task of carrying forward the legacy of his father, who had friends across the political divide, virtually friendless.
He not only lost – both face and votes – in the assembly elections (LJP won only one seat while it was instrumental in the defeat of the BJP’s ally JD(U) in many seats; it had won two seats in the 2015 polls), Chirag has now been ousted from the very party his father built.
On Monday, five of the six Lok Janshakti Party MPs in Lok Sabha rebelled against Chirag and elected Pashupati Kumar Paras, the youngest brother of the former’s father, in his place, causing a big churn in Bihar politics.
A day later, Chirag was sacked from the post of the party’s national president, too. However, within minutes, his faction issued a letter ‘expelling’ the five rebel MPs. Both factions seemingly jostled to take control of the party a day after Paras led the coup against Chirag.
Also, one of the five party leaders to revolt against Chirag is his own cousin Prince Raj, the MP from Samastipur. Raj is the son of Ram Chandra Paswan, the former Lok Sabha MP who died in 2019.
…and he came tumbling after
The monumental loss in the assembly polls especially after his decision to walk away from the NDA perhaps holds the key to the predicament Paswan Junior finds himself in today.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Hanuman’ as he likes to call himself (he had even said that the LJP’s vision document for the polls was inspired by the PM), Chirag made the bold decision to go it alone despite vehement opposition from political backers, including those from outside the party.
And he paid a heavy price. The party won only one seat. But it significantly dented the JD(U)’s prospects propelling the BJP to emerge as the bigger shareholder in the ruling coalition.
This has led to not-so-hushed whispers in the Chirag camp blaming the JD(U) for the split, saying the party had long been working to isolate the LJP president after his decision to go all out against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the assembly polls.
The JD(U), which was for the first time reduced to the status of a junior partner to the BJP after it lost more than 35 seats due to the presence of LJP candidates, has been seemingly seething ever since and has even tried to woo over a number of LJP’s organisational leaders to its fold.
“It is a well-known adage that as you sow, so you reap. Chirag Paswan was heading a party which was with the NDA. Yet, he adopted a stance that damaged it in the assembly polls. This led to a sense of unease within his own party,” JD(U) national president RCP Singh told reporters as news of the ‘coup’ spread.
Switch and bait
Chirag’s real troubles began earlier this year when his only MLA, Raj Kumar Singh joined the JDU. In February, an MLC, Nutan Singh, the LJP’s lone member in the upper house of the Bihar legislature, also switched sides to the BJP.
Chirag’s political antennae should have perked up right after Singh’s move that all was not well in his party.
Instead, the very next day, he rejigged LJP’s organisational set-up and appointed Raju Tiwari and Sanjay Paswan, both senior leaders, as state working president and principal general secretary, respectively. It was seen as an attempt to revive the party.
Survival of the fittest
With buzz growing about a reshuffle in the Union cabinet, political watchers believe that the development is aimed at thwarting Paswan’s chances to join the government but it remains to be seen as to how the saffron party sees the implosion in the LJP.
As such, the equation between the BJP and the JD(U) has been far from smooth despite both parties sharing power in Bihar, and Kumar has been taking various measures to bolster his party’s strength after suffering a setback in the assembly polls.
Paras is seen as more pro-Nitish Kumar than pro-BJP, and Paswan’s complete marginalisation is not something many BJP leaders will wish even though a section of the party has been miffed with his conduct, sources said. That not a single MP, all of whom owe their current position to Ram Vilas Paswan, has stood by Chirag Paswan reflects poorly on him, they added.
What will also be a key aspect, while going ahead, is how core LJP voters, mostly members of the Paswan community, react to the development.