New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has stepped in to address the widening rift between its Bihar partners Janata Dal (United) and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) ahead of state elections scheduled for later this year.
According to sources in the BJP, party president J.P. Nadda has advised LJP president and MP Chirag Paswan to tone down his attacks on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, also telling the young leader to be “realistic” in assessing his strengths before taking on a political veteran.
The advice seemed to have worked, as Chirag appeared to adopt a softer note on the JD(U) after a meeting with senior LJP leaders Saturday.
Relations between the LJP and the JD(U) have been strained over the past few months, with Chirag making no secret of his chief ministerial ambitions and even threatening to go it alone in the assembly elections.
There have been differences over seat distribution, with Chirag, son of Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, eyeing a bigger role for the LJP, and he has also accused Nitish of acting unilaterally.
The BJP, sources said, intervened last week when Chirag approached Nadda with complaints against Nitish.
Chirag Paswan approaches BJP
On Thursday, sources said, Chirag had a word with BJP president J.P. Nadda to complain about “Nitish Kumar’s unilateral approach”. He said Nitish hadn’t responded to a letter he sent him, and added that his party “is ready to fight the Bihar election independently if our respect is not honoured”.
In turn, the sources said, Nadda advised him to “maintain restraint in verbal exchanges” and be realistic in the assessment of his strength. The BJP, sources said, is in no mood to annoy Nitish as they head into the election season.
“There are a few issues between the two parties, but it is largely related to the LJP’s aspirations to contest more seats. It will be addressed at the right time, but Chirag has to keep in mind a realistic assessment of his party’s strength,” said a BJP leader in the Nitish cabinet.
“Aspiration in politics is natural, but he is up against a leader with more than 35 years in politics. He can fight against Tejashwi or some other leader in the same age bracket leader, but not Nitish. He has to understand this.”
According to the BJP leader, “the senior Paswan understands this reality, but junior is in haste to expand the party’s footprint”.
“Paswan is an important ally but Nitish is head of government and the BJP doesn’t want to antagonise Nitish without any political purpose.”
As things stand, the LJP is a marginal player in state politics. In the 2015 assembly elections, the LJP contested 45 of the state’s 243 seats but won two. When Nitish returned to the NDA in 2017 after a brief split, he accommodated Chirag’s uncle Pashupatinath Paras as minister, but, since the latter was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2019, there has been no LJP member among state ministers.
The differences between the LJP and the JD(U) stem from Chirag’s demand for greater say in the government and 40 seats for the party in the upcoming elections, but Nitish, it is believed, isn’t amenable to the idea. According to sources, he is not ready to give more than 25 seats to the LJP.
Since earlier this year, Chirag has lashed out at the Nitish government on several counts — from its handling of the migrant crisis triggered by the Covid-19 lockdown, to the state’s law-and-order situation — and the JD(U) has hit back.
The rift escalated this week when Chirag picked up an excerpt from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interaction on Covid-19 with 10 chief ministers, where the latter said Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat need to step up testing, and tweeted about it. “The LJP, from the beginning, has been demanding that testing should increase in Bihar. After the PM’s intervention, we are hopeful that the Bihar government will increase the rate of testing,” he said in a tweet.
Senior JD(U) leader and MP Lallan Singh hit back, saying Chirag was playing the role of opposition “despite being a part of the NDA”. “But Nitish Kumar is not bothered about this and he is focusing on his work. Kalidas also chopped the branch on which he sat,” Lallan Singh said, invoking a famous instance from the life of the famous Sanskrit poet, often offered as a cautionary tale against hurting one’s own cause.
LJP spokesperson Mohammed Ashraf then referred to Lallan Singh as “Surdas”, another poetic giant from ancient India, who was born blind.
“Chirag Paswan only reiterated what Prime Minister Modi said… Lallan Singh has become Surdas, who cannot differentiate between good and bad. Nitish Kumar is chief minister of Bihar with the blessings of Prime Minister Modi and he is pointing fingers at him,” the spokesperson added.
Earlier, on 25 June, Chirag had told LJP office-bearers over a video conference that the party is a partner of the NDA at the Centre and not in Bihar (as the party doesn’t have any minister). The party, he said, is thus free to fight the 2020 assembly election independently. Among other things, he outlined his ambition of becoming chief minister one day.
After the meeting with Nadda, however, Chirag described Lallan Singh as a “guardian” and made no reference to his claims about withdrawing support from the government.
Speaking to the media Saturday, he said, “I have come here to discuss the issues of coronavirus and flood relief with LJP leaders. I will raise these issues in the future also… I am not worried about the assembly election.”
An LJP MP said it was “old politics” of Nitish to decimate smaller parties. “He ensured Upendra Kushwaha’s ouster from the NDA and is now trying the same trick with the LJP, but we are ready to fight independently if things not mature in our way.”
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.