In Bihar, challenges before Chirag Paswan, who is in for a baptism by fire
Ram Vilas Paswan’s demise might garner some sympathy for his son. But Paswan Jr faces an uphill task. In his father’s absence, loyalty of the family and party to him will be tested like never before
Chirag Paswan, the young political heir of former socialist leader Ram Vilas Paswan is likely to miss his father’s towering presence. Paswan Senior’s demise could not have come at a worse time for Chirag. He has no time to grieve as the Lok Jan Shakti Party gears up to take on the JD(U) in Bihar where the assembly elections begin less than three weeks from now. With Paswan Sr around, the task would have been interesting. With Paswan Sr gone, the task is daunting.
He has the advantage of having been anointed by Ram Vilas Paswan himself as his political heir. The other members of the extended Paswan family, particularly Pashupati Kumar Paras, Chirag’s ambitious uncle and cousin Prince Raj, who is an MP like Chirag, have kept a low profile till now. Whether they fall in line and accept the leadership of Chirag in the party is something that only time will tell.
Chirag will also have to deal with his step sister Asha and her husband. Both are said to be politically ambitious and are unlikely to give up their claim to the political legacy and property left behind by Ram Vilas Paswan. She reportedly created a scene at the Patna airport when the plane with Paswan Senior’s body landed and political observers say they will not be surprised if she is propped up directly or indirectly by the JD(U).
‘Bihar first’ slogan raised by Chirag Paswan was at least partly dictated by the need to establish himself as a pure Bihari and not 50 pc Bihari as his detractors describe him because of his mother being a Punjabi. She was instrumental in changing Ram Vilas Paswan’s rustic ways and groomed him. It was under her influence that the socialist leader acquired expensive sartorial taste, began to dye his hair and became a page three celebrity in Delhi, say a section of his constituents.
In 2015 Prime Minister had found the ‘political DNA’ of Nitish Kumar to be faulty. In the 2020 elections it will be Chirag Paswan’s ‘Bihari DNA’ that will be tested. He has cultivated an image of a confident, even somewhat overbearing young leader. But the dividing line between confidence and over-confidence being thin, he will have to be careful that he does not trip on a self-woven web.
Like Tejaswi Yadav, politics was not Chirag Paswan’s first love (he wanted to be a film star and acted in a film while Tejaswi fancied himself as a cricketer and carried drinks as the perpetual 12th man in Delhi). Both of them are therefore accidental politicians.
Political observers point out that in elections both arithmetic and chemistry are important. And while both Tejashwi Yadav and Chirag Paswan seem to understand the numbers, they do not seem to understand the chemistry of Bihar politics. Unlike its arithmetic, the chemistry of Bihar politics is very complex. The only Bihar politician who mastered the arithmetic as well as chemistry of Bihar politics is Lalu Prasad Yadav. To some extent, through trial and error, Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar too learnt this chemistry.
With an ageing Nitish Kumar on the last leg of his political career, it is Tejashwi Yadav who is Chirag Paswan’s immediate and apparent political rival in the state. Both are political novices but Tejashwi Yadav seems to enjoy three distinct advantages over Chirag. The most important is that Lalu Yadav is still around to baby walk Tejashwi. Secondly, Tejashwi’s caste base in the state is larger and stronger than Chirag and he also has the advantage of having some administrative experience as the Deputy Chief Minister in the state between 2015 and 2017.
Political wolves are naturally hovering to take advantage of Chirag Paswan’s inexperience. Contrary to the impression he sought to create, the assembly election is a test of his own survival now. He will have to do exceptionally well in the election and engineer a real divorce between BJP and JD(U) to survive in the treacherous minefield of Bihar politics. If he fails, the going for him will become that much more tough.