Patna Durbar

Why coming together of Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan is significant

It reminds us of a similar deal in 2005, which could not materialise at the end.

 |  Patna Durbar  |  3-minute read |   28-12-2018
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In 2019, a 14-year ‘Vanvas’ will end between Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) Chief Ram Vilas Paswan, when the two leaders will campaign together in the Lok Sabha polls against the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-led grand alliance, which at times looks formidable, if not a juggernaut.

It was in the run-up to the 2005 Assembly polls that Nitish Kumar had sought his old friend Paswan’s support to forge an anti-RJD front.

Nitish made an unconditional offer of chief ministership, if Paswan led the coalition against RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav.

But, the deal could not fructify, as Paswan insisted that Nitish must first leave the BJP. This was not negotiable for Nitish.

Now, 14 years later, the two leaders will be part of the same election team, which along with the same BJP, will take on their old political rivals in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

bihar-inside_122718054917.jpgNow 14 years later, the two leaders will be part of the same election team. (Photo: PTI)

On Sunday, when BJP national president Amit Shah formally declared six seats for Paswan’s LJP, in addition to a Rajya Sabha berth for the Dalit leader, it once again sounded like a scale down for the saffron party, which currently has 22 Lok Sabha members from Bihar.

Notwithstanding their existing strength, Shah has agreed that the BJP and Nitish’s JD-U will contest 17 seats each, while the LJP will have the remaining six seats.

“It is indeed a measure of Paswan's charisma and Nitish’s support base that the BJP has agreed to accommodate their wishes at the cost of denying tickets to at least five of its sitting MPs,” accepted a senior BJP leader in Patna.

Among other things, Shah’s declaration has once again established the hold of Ram Vilas Paswan’s son Chirag Paswan over the LJP.

Chirag has been the party's key spokesman and the main negotiator with the BJP.

After Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RKLSP) left the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the saffron party understood that everyone wants to court the Paswans in Bihar.

The state’s Scheduled Caste population is divided among 22 sub-castes.

Of these, the Paswans, the core voters the LJP, are best placed — both in terms of stature and numbers — and account for nearly 4.5 per cent.

For years, Ram Vilas Paswan — his vote bank almost constant at 6.5 per cent — has remained the best-known Dalit face in Bihar.

The Dalit community in Bihar is numerically almost as significant as the Yadavs, but not as united.

Dalits have remained loyal to Paswan irrespective of the party he ties up with.

The BJP has granted Nitish and Ram Vilas Paswan’s wishes as they know that the leaders’ combined might can bring in support from Dalits, the upper castes, extremely backward castes and a section of the Muslim community. This could dent in Lalu's time-tested MYD (Muslim-Yadav-Dalit) combination.

Dalit votes comprise about 15 per cent of Bihar’s electorate — almost rivalling the Yadavs', the single largest caste group in the state.

The sheer number assumes a crucial significance for Bihar’s political landscape.

Of the 243 seats in the Bihar Assembly, about 38 are reserved for the SCs.

In the 2015 Assembly polls, the RJD bagged 14 of these seats, the highest among all parties.

The JD-U, which had contested the polls as a Grand Alliance constituent, had won 10 seats, while the Congress and the BJP bagged five each.

Among the major parties, the BJP clearly had the least electoral success in SC-reserved Assembly seats.

“Unlike 2014, when a BJP wave steamrolled everyone, we will have to battle with anti-incumbency and disillusionment in 2019. So we must have Nitish and Paswanji by our side to stand a chance in Bihar,” said a senior BJP leader.

Of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar, NDA currently has 30 seats with the BJP holding 22, LJP six, and the JD-U two.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also Read: 5 reasons why the BJP suddenly didn’t look invincible in 2018

Writer

Amitabh Srivastava  Amitabh Srivastava  @imamitabhs

The writer is a senior journalist at India Today.

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