Deciphering Chirag Paswan’s rebellion against Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar

The LJP’s strategy is rooted to the senior Paswan’s calculations that Nitish is on a downward journey and his young son has to gear up for the generation next leadership in Bihar

Chirag Paswan, president of the Lok Janshakti Party and Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar
Chirag Paswan, president of the Lok Janshakti Party and Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar

Nalin Verma

Chirag Paswan, president of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and son of Union Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, hardly misses an opportunity to attack Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar.

The latest issue picked up by him to train his guns on Nitish was the collapse of a portion of the Sattarghat bridge on river Gandak in Gopalganj district just 29 days after Nitish Kumar inaugurated it. The collapsed portion was the part of a ₹ 263.47 crore construction project.

Chirag questioned Nitish’s government’s oft repeated phrase of “zero tolerance” against corruption. “Such incidents put a question mark on zero tolerance on corruption,” Chirag tweeted, demanding a high level probe into the incident.

Chirag’s latest salvo against Nitish is in keeping with many attacks he has launched on Nitish in the recent past. He has questioned Nitish’s handling of the situation arising out of COVID-19 pandemic in the state and has demanded postponement of Assembly elections against JDU’s insistence to hold it ahead of November 20 — the date of expiry of the Assembly.

Chirag’s LJP is a part of the National Democratic Alliance and as such his father is a member of Narendra Modi-led cabinet.

The immediate reason for Chirag’s attack on Nitish is said to be Nitish’s reluctance to accommodate LJP’s demand for more seats in its share for the upcoming Assembly elections and the nomination quota seats in the Bihar Legislative Council. NDA sources said that the LJP was keen to contest at least 35 to 40 out of 243 Assembly seats in light of the fact that all its six candidates who contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as a part of the NDA had romped home. The LJP is also said to be interested in having its due representation in 12 seats of nomination quota MLCs.

It’s naive to conclude that Chirag’s growing tirade against Nitish might lead to a rift in the NDA. The all powerful BJP is playing the role of a ‘peacekeeper’ between its two warring allies — LJP and JDU — which might eventually settle their differences on the issue of the seats in their respective shares. Moreover, there is a cloud of uncertainty on the election itself in view of COVID-19 compounding its havoc and all the non-JDU and non-BJP parties are clamouring for deferment of the polls.

But the significant point in Chirag’s rebellion against Nitish is that he and his father are full of praise for the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi even as they attack Nitish. A day after questioning Nitish’s honesty with construction projects, Chirag thanked the Prime Minister for the Centre sending a team of experts to Bihar to assess the Corona situation in Bihar and praised Modi for his work for the people.

The senior Paswan who too attacked Nitish for his “failure’ to lift food grains allotted by the Centre for the poor in Bihar, keeps on tweeting in praise of the Prime Minister for his “good work” and the junior Paswan re-tweets every tweet that his father posts in praise of the PM.

Thus, there is a ‘method in madness’ of the father son-duo’s attacks on Nitish.

An inquiry and interaction with senior Bihar politicians revealed that Ram Vilas Paswan is preparing a salubrious political climate for his young son to prosper and grow on the turf of power politics. Touted as the master weathercock of Indian politics, the senior Paswan is said to have sensed that Nitish was on his downward journey of politics. Ram Vilas is believed to be working for his son to be an important cog in the wheels of the generation-next power politics in the state. And as of now, he expects the help of the BJP which too wishes to clip the wings of Nitish — so far playing ‘big brother’ in Bihar.

In fact, a look at Ram Vilas Paswan’s career trajectory will help understanding his son’s politics better. The senior Paswan had started off his career as the firebrand Dalit leader in Bihar. Senior Patna-based journalist Surendra Kishore said, “Ram Vilas Paswan was deeply influenced by Tamil Nadu revolutionary leader, E V Ramasamy, commonly known as Periyar, and loved sharing Periyar’s stories in his initial years in politics”.

But Ram Vilas’s karma bhoomi was in Bihar with Ram Manohar Lohia’s brand of socialism influencing the youths more then. So, Ram Vilas started off in Bihar as a Samyukt Socialist Party (SSP) activist and became MLA for the first time by winning his home seat of Alauli in Bihar’s Khakharia district in 1969.

Ram Vilas lost the Alauli Assembly seat in 1972 but, subsequently, he learnt the ropes of power politics. The Dalit leader shifted his base to Hajirpur — a seat reserved for scheduled castes — and contested the 1977 Lok Sabha elections on the Janata Party ticket, winning it with such a huge margin that he secured a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

He treaded in politics in such a manner that he has seldom been out of power. Beginning from 1989, be it the regime of V. P Singh or H.D Dewegowda, or I K Gujral or Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh or Narendra Modi now — the senior Paswan has been part of their Cabinets. Ram Vilas’s “wisdom” in power politics can be understood from the fact that he played a key role in the fall of Vajpapee government in 1998. But he joined his cabinet when Vajpayee returned to power in 1999.

He had admittedly resigned from the Vajpayee Cabinet in 2003 on the issue of riots in Gujarat and switched over to the Congress in 2004, becoming part of the Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. He shifted to the BJP-led NDA in 2014 when Nitish left it to join the RJD-Congress Grand Alliance and now Paswan is the part of Narendra Modi’s Cabinet.

If anything, the career trajectory of Ram Vilas suggests that he is the smartest in measuring the direction of the political winds and puts his boat in the suitable direction at the suitable time. Ram Vilas is said to be sharing a very amicable personal relationship with the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and has seldom attacked Sonia or Rahul Gandhi. “He keeps all the doors open all the time,” remarked a senior LJP leader.

Paswan’s main strength is the loyal support of his caste-men Paswans who constitute three percent of the state’s electorate. The Paswans are the most militant among the Dalit groups in Bihar. Though they are minuscule in terms of their numerical strength, they are the nucleus of the LJP patriarch’s strength and they unwavering side with Paswan wherever he goes.

Now the senior Paswan himself has gone to the background, passing on the party’s mantle to his son.

Chirag’s unabated tirade against Nitish is believed to be rooted in his wily father’s calculations that Nitish was “no longer a horse for a long run and Bihar is on the cusp of change — if not in 2020, then in the next four/ five years”. Young Chirag under the ‘guidance’ of his father is preparing himself for a long haul with Nitish.

Thus, even if Chirag buys a momentary peace with Nitish in the upcoming election, he is set to prepare his LJP as a potent pressure group in the Bihar NDA against Nitish. Chirag-Nitish rivalry has all the potential to go beyond Assembly elections.

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