Ram Vilas Paswan indicates climate change in Bihar politics post bypolls
The message from Bihar bypolls is that backward castes are seeing Lalu as a victim of vendetta politics. The resultant new political calculations—and not his conscience—is troubling Ram Vilas Paswan
The ferment in Bihar politics, which began after Nitish Kumar broke off ties with Lalu Prasad Yadav and Rahul Gandhi and rejoined the BJP-led NDA, has intensified after the NDA got a drubbing at the hands of Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal in the Araria Lok Sabha and Jahanabad assembly bypoll. The results in Gorakhpur and Phulpur in neighbouring Purvanchal would have added their own big gusts to the fierce winds blowing through Bihar politics.
Social media posts astutely calling Ram Vilas Paswan a consummate 'Political Meteorologist' are multiplying after his statement on March 17 praising the Congress. “NDA needs to take along all sections of the society. Congress also ruled the country for several decades by building an inclusive society,” said Paswan. On Sunday, March 18, Paswan added “They (BJP) need to change mass perception in terms of minorities, Dalits. Aren't there secular leaders in BJP? There are people like Sushil Modi, Ram Kripal Yadav, what happens is that their voice gets suppressed and there are others whose voice gets attention.”
It is of course an entirely different matter that four full years of gruesome attacks on minorities and Dalits at the hands of Sangh Parivar goons emboldened by the government he is a part of, thus far failed to stir the conscience of Ram Vilas Paswan. And altogether another matter that Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi is no secular BJP leader.
Paswan’s statements, though, are being taken seriously as an indication of the political weather. This is because Paswan famously has been with all governments since 1996, becoming a minister in all of them.
A new enthusiasm for Lalu
While Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and BJP leaders try to shrug off RJD’s victory in Jahanabad assembly and Araria Lok Sabha as nothing more than RJD retaining its own seats, the truth is not so flat. When RJD had won the Jahanabad seat in 2015, it had done so with JD(U) and Congress in alliance. Prior to that, in the 2010 state election, JD(U) had won the seat in coalition with BJP. This time around, the combined JD(U) and BJP, despite having governments in state and centre, were no match for RJD, supposedly weakened by its chief Lalu Prasad Yadav being jailed in fodder scam convictions. As for Araria, it was won by BJP in three out of the last five general elections, including in 2004 and 2009. By no stretch can it be called an RJD safe seat.
The victory of RJD in both these seats is being seen as both a rehabilitation of voters' faith in Lalu Prasad, and that they accept that his son, Bihar’s Leader of Opposition Tejashwi Yadav, represents Lalu’s legacy. These are the indications from the ground, and not his conscience over rampant violence against Dalits and minorities across the country under his own government’s rule, that are troubling Ram Vilas Paswan.
When politicisation of backward castes in Bihar took off in earnest with Mandal politics in the early nineties, backward castes considered Lalu Yadav their hero. It was Lalu’s Janata Dal party under then Prime Minister VP Singh that implemented reservations recommended by the Mandal Commission report. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar, who were strongly associated with forward castes, responded strategically to the challenge created by Mandal by promoting firebrand Hindutva leaders from the backward castes. Leaders like Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti and Vinay Katiyar were the BJP’s chessmen in this strategy.
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, also a former Janata Dal leader who broke away from Lalu and formed the JD(U), meanwhile divided Lalu’s backward caste voters in Bihar by creating Most Backward Caste categories for reservations and increasing their participation in different areas, including Panchayat elections.
Now, however, the message from Jahanabad is that backward castes are empathising with their old hero Lalu, who is being seen as a victim of BJP’s vendetta politics.
The victory of RJD in both these seats is being seen as both a rehabilitation of voters’ faith in Lalu Prasad, and that they accept that his son, Bihar’s Leader of Opposition Tejashwi Yadav, represents Lalu’s legacy. These are the indications from the ground, and not his conscience over rampant violence against Dalits and minorities across the country under his own government’s rule, that are troubling Ram Vilas Paswan.
Premkumar Mani, former JD(U) Legislative Councilor and a friend of Nitish Kumar says, "I myself went to Jahanabad several times during the bypoll campaign. RJD's victory with a 35,000 vote margin is itself a sign, but I personally saw that there is a new enthusiasm for Lalu Prasad among Dalits, OBCs and MBCs. Anyway, there has been a social, cultural movement within the MBCs which has thus far prevented them from going with the communal forces. The entire Bhakti movement was led by Sants of these communities. So BJP-JD(U) is not able to garner votes of this group completely.”
Mani’s assessment is reflected in the mood among Bihar NDA allies. Jitan Ram Manjhi has already quit and his Hindustani Awam Morcha joined the RJD-Congress Mahagathbandhan. Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha of RLSP is indicating that he may also walk on this path. Ram Vilas Paswan is now also trying to hedge his bets, with Jahanabad showing that there is a stir in their base vote bank and discomfort against BJP is growing among them.
This is the reason why Hindutva goons are attempting to shore up BJP’s base by trying mobilisation on a communal basis in Bihar, with a spate of communal incidents over the past few days. This can be seen in the communal utterances of BJP leaders, from the fake video purporting to show RJD workers shouting 'Pakistan Muradabad' slogans in Araria, and from tension being caused in Bhagalpur. In Darbhanga, there was an attempt to give communal colour to the murder of a Yadav in a land dispute.
That a fierce fight has begun in Bihar ahead of the next general elections is clear. There are reports that BJP is going all out to retain and even extend it’s tally of 22 seats in Bihar, through the sudden increased communal polarisation efforts. Any gains for BJP could come at the expense of not just RJD but also the smaller NDA allies, given the recent Dainik Jagran report that Prime Minister Narendra Modi could shift his Lok Sabha seat from Varanasi to Patna.
All this will ensure that Bihar remains in political ferment over the months ahead. No wonder, weather vane Ram Vilas Paswan has begun spinning furiously.
Inputs by NH Political Bureau.
- Narendra Modi
- Nitish Kumar
- Rahul Gandhi
- Dainik Jagran
- Lalu Prasad Yadav
- Jitan Ram Manjhi
- Upendra Kushwaha
- Tejashwi Prasad Yadav
- Hindustani Awam Morcha
- Mandal politics
- Premkumar Mani