Bihar First, Bihari First?: Few takers for Chirag Paswan’s political narrative
Void created by the death of Ram Vilas Paswan is sought to be filled by his 37-year-old son. Anointed President of Lok Jan Shakti Party, Paswan Jr has come up with the slogan,Bihar First, Bihari First
The village Shaharbanni, 28 Kilometres from the district town of Khagaria, till recently boasted of four sitting MPs, possibly the only village in the country to do so. The death of Ram Vilas Paswan earlier this month has brought the number down to three. The prodigal dalit icon, socialist leader and union minister, Paswan’s political career spanned five decades and he rubbed shoulders with six Prime Ministers.
But even as villagers mourn, there is reluctant acknowledgment that the village could have done with more development. Not too long ago, visitors had to take a boat at Phultora Ghat to reach the village. Now thanks to a bridge over the river Kareh, one can drive to the village.
Electricity reached the village after the 2015 assembly election. Houses built under the Indira Awas Yojana have sprung up in the village though but make shift jhuggi-jhopris can still be seen. During the rains the village every year is encircled by the swirling waters of Kosi, Bagmati and Kareh rivers. But one redeeming feature is that a fairly large number of villagers have landed government jobs, courtesy the late leader.
The void created by the death of Ram Vilas Paswan is sought to be filled by his 37-year-old son. Anointed President of the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJSP in the Lok Sabha portal), Paswan Jr has come up with the slogan, ‘Bihar First, Bihari First’. His avowed aim in this election is to ensure the defeat of Nitish Kumar and install a BJP-LJSP government in the state.
But while swearing his allegiance to both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP in the same breath, he curiously quotes his late father telling him, “Sher ka bachcha jungle chirkenikaljatahai, gidar mara jaatahai (A lion cub makes his way alone through the forest while the timid and the fearful get killed).”
While he blames Nitish Kumar for Bihar’s sorry plight, the irony escapes him. If Nitish Kumar is responsible for letting down the state and aspirations of its youth, Chirag’s own father and his ‘ Hriday Samrat’ ( King of Hearts) Narendra Modi can hardly be absolved of their responsibility. While Nitish Kumar bears the brunt of criticism for the plight of Bihari migrant workers, the Prime Minister and Babus in Delhi were equally, if not more, responsible for the harsh lockdown without planning.
It is true that Education in the state is in a bad shape. People who can afford it send their children out to schools in Musoorie, Nainital, Delhi, Pune, Kota and destinations in the South. But neither the PM nor Paswan have shown any interest in improving the conditions.Scores of union ministers from Bihar too have been ineffective. In his public address at Patna Science College on 14 October, 2017, on the occasion of Patna University’s centenary celebrations, the Bihar Chief Minister folded his hands and prayed to PM Modi to grant central university status to Patna University. The request was disdainfully ignored even as two new central universities were set up at Gaya and Motiharirespectively.
It is also ironical that while migrant workers continue to trickle back to the state in the absence of jobs, one of the first trains to transport workers back to the big cities left from Khagaria, the Paswan family’s home turf. At least five of Paswan’s extended family have been MPs at different points of time. But again, oblivious to the delicious irony, Chirag Paswan waxes eloquently about equal opportunity for everyone!
There are other sections of the population who feel betrayed by Paswans. Ram Vilas Paswan prided himself to be secular and held the cause of Muslims dear to his heart. He quit the Vajpayee government in 2002 over the Gujarat riots issue.
Indeed after the 2005 assembly elections in Bihar,he declared that he would support the party or the coalition which chose a Muslim as the chief minister. He would host Iftar parties with elan, but displayed no inhibition in joining hands with BJP and Narendra Modi himself. He is said to have done so on his son Chirag’s counsel.
Nine years after Gujarat riots, Narendra Modi had undertaken a three-day fast at the Gujarat University Exhibition Hall in Ahmedabad. A leading local English daily had then reported, “During the three-day fast, Narendra Modi was seen in an array of traditional headgear – except one. Despite wooing Muslims with his Sadbhavna rhetoric, not once was he seen in a Muslim skull cap. In fact, on Sunday, when a maulana offered him the skull cap, he rejected it, leaving the cleric and his supporters fuming.” But Paswan Senior and Junior did not bat an eyelid.
While Chirag Paswan criticizes Nitish for allowing rampant corruption in the state, senior Paswan himself was hardly known for high standards of probity. As Railway Minister or Minister in charge of steel and mines, he was widely believed to have amassed wealth. But the Modi Government, which has been re-opening old cases against political rivals, naturally turned a blind eye to the past misdemeanour of Paswan Sr.
Paswan’s lavish parties in Delhi indicated his new-found wealth. Some of his constituents recall that on a visit to the leader’s house, they were locked up in the outhouse because a party was on. They were sternly told to take off their shoes when they finally were allowed to call on the leader. There were only two so expensive carpets in Delhi, they were told. One was in the leader’s house and the other at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
A LJP poster in the state carries the slogan, “Modi se koi bairnahin, Nitish terikhairnahin.” Loosely translated the slogan means “There’s no rift with Modi, but no love lost with Nitish, who would not be spared).
But Chirag Paswan has no convincing answer to questions around the BJP-JD(U) alliance; or why the BJP swears by Nitish Kumar as the future CM, irrespective of the number of seats won.