BJP, Paswan settle for a face-saving deal

BJP president Amit Shah on Sunday, made the embarrassing mistake of confusing ally Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan with the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party. Paswan had to correct him

BJP, Paswan settle for a face-saving deal
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Soroor Ahmed

If they were embarrassed, they hid the embarrassment well. But on Sunday Television cameras caught BJP president Amit Shah announce that NDA allies BJP, JD(U) and RLSP had arrived at a consensus on seats they would be contesting in Bihar in the next general election. Union Minister Ram Bilas Paswan had to correct Shah and prompt him. While Paswan’s son Chirag Paswan stood by his father, on the other side of Shah stood the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.

Shah announced that BJP and JD(U) will be contesting in 17 seats each, leaving the remaining six seats in Bihar to LJP, now that RLSP has gone over to the UPA.

For the NDA allies it was a damage control exercise. Paswan Junior, obviously with the blessings of his father, had started giving discordant statements. Chairman of the party’s parliamentary board, Paswan Junior had spoken up to say that Ram Temple and cow were not NDA’s issues. He also expressed concern for growing joblessness and on farm distress. A week after BJP failed to win a single of the five assembly elections, results for which were declared on December 11, he also saw positive changes in the Congress under Rahul Gandhi.

Alarm bells would have started ringing in the BJP because it needed LJP in Bihar to woo the Dalits. Could the LJP be wavering and toying with the idea of withdrawing from the NDA ?

Paswan, known for his uncanny political instinct before elections, had generally sided with the winning alliances before general elections. So much so that RJD chief Lalu Yadav would in lighter moments refer to him as a weathercock or a ‘Mausam Vaigyanik’ ( Metereologist).

It will be a testing time for the LJP. Can Paswan’s famed oratory be enough to win over Dalits when discontent among them is high ? Will Paswan Junior, who is still not taken seriously in Bihar politics, prove to be a patch on his father?

But Kushwaha moved first, declared his departure from NDA and joined the grand alliance (Mahagathbandhan) of RJD and Congress in Bihar. NDA had to stop Paswan from doing another of his hopping tricks.

BJP leaders swung into action with the party’s Bihar in-charge Bhupendra Yadav meeting the father-son duo on December 20. He then took them to the party chief Amit Shah. A day later Union finance minister Arun Jaitley met them and even the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar rushed to Delhi to be present during the announcement.

If Paswan junior made the discordant statements to strike a hard bargain, what has the LJP finally gained ? It had won six of the seven seats it contested in 2014 and has been allowed to retain the winning number. In addition, Ram Vilas Paswan has been promised a seat in the Rajya Sabha.

Analysts wonder if Paswan has been too slow to read the writing on the wall and is in danger of falling between two stools. They also recall that in 2014 Paswan had jumped ship in February, less than two months before the general election. This time he may not be able to do that with both alliances finalising seat adjustments early.

It will be a testing time for the LJP. Can Paswan’s famed oratory be enough to win over Dalits when discontent among them is high ? Will Paswan Junior, who is still not taken seriously in Bihar politics, prove to be a patch on his father?

If LJP fails to retain its six per cent vote share and ends up backing the losing horse, it could well be the end of the road for the party.

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Published: 24 Dec 2018, 8:44 AM
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