The importance of being Ram Vilas Paswan

The BJP has fallen back on Paswan to help garner the support of Dalits in Gujarat


Soroor Ahmed

He was a bit of a political outcast in the National Democratic Alliance during the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election campaign earlier this year. This was so notwithstanding the fact that Uttar Pradesh had 22 per cent Dalit voters and BJP had no leader of the stature of Mayawati of Bahujan Samaj Party.

Even during the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2015 Assmbly elections in Bihar, his home state, Paswan was not involved much in day to day campaigning for the NDA. But now in the home turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief

Amit Shah, his service is being utilised though Gujarat has only seven per cent Dalit population.

The move to paradrop Union minister and Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan in Gujarat shows the panic within the BJP rank and file. Not only Paswan, even his son Chirag Paswan, who is also the MP from Jamui in Bihar, is likely to campaign in Gujarat.

Interestingly, when Ram Vilas Paswan had joined hands with the National Democratic Alliance on February 27, 2014, his entry was stiffly opposed by several Bihar BJP bigwigs. When the then Prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi came to address the first election rally on March 3, 2014 in Muzaffarpur, Bihar BJP leaders like Dr CP Thakur, Ashwini Choubey and Giriraj Singh openly boycotted it, though they were the staunchest supporters of the then Gujarat CM. They did so because Paswan was sharing the dais with Modi.

Curiously, Choubey and Singh later went on to become Paswan’s ministerial colleagues though in March 2014 they had described him as casteist, corrupt and a turncoat.

Yet the BJP left seven out of 40 seats for the LJP in that Lok Sabha election. The NDA virtually swept the poll winning 31 out of the 40 seats in the Lok Sabha from Bihar.

But after the victory, Modi left Paswan in the cold though he was made a minister. The BJP was so sure of Paswan’s weak support base outside Bihar that it never sought his support in UP, though the election was held within four months of demonetisation.

Similarly, the BJP-Akali Dal alliance did not deem it fit to use him in the Punjab election, which has 32 per cent Dalits. In UP, the saffron party managed to marginalise BSP even without the help of any Dalit leader––even its own MP Udit Raj. However, eight months later, the BJP has woken up to the existence of Paswan in its ranks. It raises a big question: are Modi and Shah feeling shaky after the entry of new-comer Jignesh Mevani campaigning aggressively against the BJP in Gujarat?

Mevani and OBC and Patidar leaders Alpesh Thakor and Hardik Patel respectively are political greenhorns, who have joined forces with the Congress. They are no match for Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati and yet the BJP is not so sure of victory. When Paswan was enlisted in the NDA, against the wish of many saffron party leaders, it was argued that it was the need of the hour. Everyone in the BJP was aware that he was the one minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Cabinet who had resigned two months after the Gujarat riots. He had then joined the UPA and became Union minister once again in 2004. From 2002 to 2014, he accused the BJP as a dangai party (party of rioters) and would boast that he was the only minister who resigned after the Gujarat pogrom.

The truth, however, was something else. Paswan resigned two months after the riots when things almost started normalising. He did so only after the April 2002 UP Assembly election when the BJP decided to support Mayawati to form the government. Upset over BJP’s proximity with the BSP, he quit from the Cabinet stating that he was doing so because of the riots.

More than 15 years later, the BJP has pressed into service the same man, who had never minced words in denouncing Modi. It was, therefore, unimaginable even 15 months ago to envision Paswan leading the BJP’s charge in Gujarat.

But will a non-Gujarati-speaking Dalit leader help?

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