New Delhi: What’s playing out in Bihar ahead of its assembly elections is a game between the gymnast, Nitish Kumar, and the weathercock of Indian politics since 1996, Ram Vilas Paswan, ThePrint’s editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta said in episode 586 of Cut the Clutter Tuesday.
He said though this may not be an evenly matched battle, both the “maharathis of Bihar” are much weaker than before and the party “licking its chops” is the BJP.
The highly anticipated Bihar elections will take place in three phases on 28 October, 3 November and 7 November. This week, the Chirag Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) announced that it will go into the Bihar polls solo and contest against all JD(U) candidates but not those fielded by the BJP.
According to Gupta, this is LJP’s way of “playing spoilers” and weakening Bihar CM Nitish Kumar while remaining in the BJP’s good books.
The gymnast vs the weathercock
Bihar is a state that thrives on politics but after the decline of the Congress in 1989, the state has suffered from broken politics, explained Gupta.
Apart from RJD’s Lalu Prasad Yadav, the state has seen the rise of two other political “characters” — Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan, who share certain similarities. Not only are both former socialists, but they have also “been with every party either by joining it, or in coalition with it” at the level of national or state politics.
Paswan, for example, joined the United Front government in 1996, was a cabinet minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government holding many key portfolios from railways to telecom and coal, and even joined the UPA alliance at one point.
“He’s not wasted much time switching to the winning side,” observed Gupta, terming him a “weathercock” in Indian politics.
It’s almost as if a Union Cabinet cannot be formed without him, added Gupta. This is perhaps why LJP has not withdrawn from the NDA in Bihar as Paswan holds a cabinet position while in alliance with the NDA at the national level.
Similarly, Kumar’s JD(U) was a coalition partner with the BJP in 2005 and 2010, and then he grew resentful of Narendra Modi’s rise, leading him to join hands with the Congress and ‘enemy’ Lalu Prasad Yadav. However, when that arrangement fell through, Kumar “did a somersault” and returned to the BJP. In this way, he is a gymnast in Bihar politics.
The game of weakening Nitish Kumar
However, the BJP is also getting “fed up” that Kumar has won so many terms of chief minister by leveraging his brand with not much of a vote bank, Gupta said. He predicted that if the NDA wins in Bihar, the BJP will start pushing Nitish Kumar at some point once he “begins to lose utility for them”, in order to have a chief minister of their own in Bihar.
“They have a chief minister of their own now in Uttar Pradesh, so why not Bihar? In the Hindi Heartland, that will be the last frontier for the BJP,” explained Gupta. Therefore, BJP is using the Paswans as “a convenient fifth column or a proxy” to weaken Nitish Kumar and his political leverage.
Though Ram Vilas Paswan is a weathercock, he has shown he cannot win seats on his own and has also just undergone a heart surgery. However, his son, Chirag, is now at the helm of LJP who could possibly play a role should there be “a vacuum of a charismatic leader in Bihar” after Nitish Kumar’s decline.
Watch the full episode of CTC here:
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.