Will Chirag Paswan remain part of NDA after hurting Nitish Kumar in Bihar?
LJP president Chirag Paswan took a huge gamble in Bihar Assembly election. It partly paid off but not the way Chirag Paswan wanted. His decision to go it alone in Bihar election and only against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar ended up damaging JDU on 35-40 seats. This has left Nitish Kumar fuming. But Chirag Paswan rolled his dice in Bihar election with political subtlety by professing fealty to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP.
Now, it is a catch-22 situation for the BJP.
When Ram Vilas Paswan passed away weeks before Bihar went to polls, his son Chirag Paswan appeared a natural inheritor of his ministerial berth in the Narendra Modi cabinet. This certainty is not there now for Chirag Paswan.
Nitish Kumar and other JDU leaders have made it clear that the BJP has to decide whether Chirag Paswan stays within the NDA at the national level or not. The JDU had forced Chirag Paswan out of the Bihar NDA in pre-poll days.
In his first press conference after the Bihar election results were declared, Nitish Kumar on Thursday said, “We were attacked. It is for the BJP to decide whether it wants to take action [against Chirag Paswan] or not. We have no role to play here. It [LJP going alone in Bihar election] has impacted the JDU on many seats and also the BJP.”
He put that ball in the BJP’s court but dropping enough hints that he is not ready to make a truce. Certainly, there cannot be any role for Chirag Paswan or his LJP in Bihar NDA. Nitish Kumar wants the BJP to give a “strong message” to Chirag Paswan.
What could be that strong message?
Will the BJP drop Chirag Paswan from NDA?
Union minister and senior BJP leader from Bihar, Ravi Shankar Prasad in a TV interview said, “The LJP is not a national party, it is Bihar-based. Chirag Paswan openly opposed NDA’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. He has to decide what he has to do going forward. What is clear is that the BJP does not snap ties with its alliesWhether Chirag Paswan will get the cabinet berth in place of Ram Vilas Paswan or not is to be decided by the top leadership [PM Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah].”
Similar views have been expressed by other BJP leaders. This question has become complicated because Chirag Paswan repeatedly said he wants the BJP to lead the government in Bihar. This is the same aspiration that the BJP cadres in Bihar have.
Chirag Paswan expressed unflinching loyalty to PM Modi even during the Bihar election campaign. He called himself PM Modi’s “Hanuman”, who is known in Indian mythology for his utmost devotion to Lord Ram. Unlike his father Ram Vilas Paswan, Chirag has often backed PM Modi and the BJP on the issues of Hindutva. In the election, he promised to build a grand temple dedicated to Sita, the wife of Lord Ram at her birthplace in Bihar’s Sitamarhi.
Even after the election results were announced, Chirag Paswan told reporters in Bihar that he achieved his objective of making BJP the senior partner in the ruling alliance. BJP won 74 seats compared to 43 won by the JDU. BJP missed being the single-largest party in Bihar Assembly by one seat as RJD got 75 seats.
A bungalow is at stake
The size of a bungalow in Lutyen’s Delhi is a measure of the political stature that an MP enjoys. There have been many political duels over bungalows in Delhi. Ram Vilas Paswan lived in a sprawling bungalow at 12, Janpath for over three decades. Chirag Paswan has inherited Ram Vilas Paswan’s party, the LJP. It was a decision that did not go very well, particularly with Pashupati Paras, who stayed away from much of electioneering in Bihar.
If Chirag Paswan does get a ministerial berth in the Modi cabinet, he faces the risk of losing 12 Janpath. He is a two-time Lok Sabha MP and may not get a bungalow of that size which might be reallocated to a senior parliamentarian.
Former PM Chandrashekhar’s son Neeraj Shekhar had failed to retain his father’s bungalow and former Union minister Ajit Singh too tried hard to retain 12, Tughlaq Road bungalow where his father Chaudhary Charan Singh, the former PM lived.
Ram Vilas Paswan’s bungalow had become the talk of the town in 2004 when his high-profile neighbour Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, walked down to 12, Janpath seeking his support for the UPA after Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government had been voted out. Retaining Ram Vilas Paswan’s bungalow, which is also the present address of Chirag Paswan, will be a huge boost for the LJP leader after his failed Bihar experiment.
What may prevent the BJP from parting ways with Chirag Paswan?
Chirag Paswan has not done anything against the BJP. He has, in fact, put the BJP in a moral dilemma by playing a Modi-loyalist. PM Modi, in his Bihar election rallies, did not say a word to reprimand Chirag Paswan for dampening the NDA’s prospects. PM Modi praised Paswan Senior calling him his life-long friend.
Chirag Paswan failed to win many seats for the LJP but he still got over five per cent votes in Bihar election. Paswans, as caste voters, are four to five per cent in Bihar. The BJP has carefully built a perception of being a party of not only the upper caste and affluent class but also of the Dalits and the poor. Leaders such as Ram Vilas Paswan and Ramdas Athawale played a key role in building that perception. The BJP has key elections coming up in other states including West Bengal and Tamil Nadu next year. Both states have a sizeable Dalit population.
For Nitish Kumar, he would not like to be seen as “vindictive” by pushing the BJP to throw Chirag Paswan out of the central NDA so soon after victory in Bihar election. This was why Nitish Kumar deflected the question to the BJP on Thursday. The BJP’s predicament is that Chirag Paswan may be a Bihar player but a rough deal to him may have a national cost for PM Modi and his brand of politics.