Patna: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has had a change of heart in its relationship with Chirag Paswan, the son of late Ram Vilas Paswan.
After months of ignoring him in favour of his uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras, the BJP now feels the need to keep Chirag in good humour as it sees his faction taking control of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), months after the BJP gave Paras a berth in the Union government.
On Sunday, as Chirag held the barsi of his father in Patna, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to him and told him over phone how much he missed Ram Vilas Paswan. The PM also enquired about the health of his family members. The call was followed by a two-page emotional letter.
“This is a very emotional day for me. Today I not only recall him as a close friend, but also feeling the political vacuum created by his death,” PM Modi wrote in his letter, recalling the achievements of late Ram Vilas Paswan both as a Union minister and politician.
The letter’s effect was felt during the function, where most of the Bihar BJP heavyweights, including the Speaker and two deputy chief ministers, were visible.
Union minister Nityanand Rai also flew from Delhi to participate in the event. “I had a personal relationship with Ram Vilas ji. He was a leader above parties and above caste,” Rai told The Print.
Speaking about this change in approach, a BJP leader who didn’t wish to be named said, “Of course, the message of PM’s letter was clear that we cannot afford to ignore Chirag.”
The latest move came just weeks after Chirag was offered a few months of extension to vacate the Lutyens’ bungalow that Paswan Sr lived in for over three decades.
BJP’s change of heart
In June, the BJP is said to have played an active role in the split of LJP, when five party MPs ousted Chirag Paswan and replaced him with his uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras as the president.
The following month, the Modi government recognised Paras’ faction as the LJP and the latter was made Union minister on the party quota. However, the Rajya Sabha seat that fell vacant due to the death of Paswan Sr was denied to Chirag.
“A more pliable Paras was the choice of the BJP leadership at the Centre,” said a BJP MP who didn’t wish to be named.
This came as BJP followed the dictum of Janata Dal (United), which held Chirag responsible for the cliffhanger 2020 assembly election results, in which as many as 42 JD(U) candidates lost because the LJP candidates took sizeable votes. The fact that LJP won only one seat and got more than 5.5 per cent of the popular votes narrated the whole story.
The caste arithmetic
But things turned around after Chirag Paswan started the ‘Aashirwad Yatra’ from his late father’s bastion Hajipur, which is currently represented by Paras, in July.
Chirag got a rousing welcome from the Paswans, in particular. However, Pashupati Kumar Paras’ visit to Hajipur in August was a disaster. He was heckled and booed by the crowd.
Ram Vilas Pawan was considered the third engine of Bihar politics along with Lalu Pasad and Nitish Kumar because of his sway on people from his caste.
The Paswans are the most aggressive section of Dalits. Out of the 16 per cent Dalit population in the state, 5-6 per cent are Paswans, according to 1931 Census data. Since 1999, the late Ram Vilas Paswan was able to swing the results in favour of whichever alliance he was a part of.
Moreover, there are around 50,000 or more Paswans in most Lok Sabha seats in Bihar. In 2014, when BJP and JD(U) fought the polls separately, Ram Vilas aligned with the BJP giving the NDA the edge and victory in 32 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats.
After his death on 8 October last year, and the subsequent rebellion of Chirag, the BJP hoped that Paras would step in the shoes of Paswan Sr. So the party backed him when JD(U) played a role in the split of LJP. However, the results weren’t pretty.
Since July, Chirag has travelled several districts of Bihar — Purnea, Katihar, Jehanabad, Begusarai and others, drawing large crowds, particularly the Paswans.
“We have given feedback to the BJP leadership that it will be Chirag and not Paras who will inherit his father’s political legacy,” said the BJP MP quoted above.
Threat of Tejashwi-plus-Chirag
Since June, there have been two meetings between Chirag Paswan and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Tejashwi Yadav. While both have described these as non-political, voices in the RJD have been appealing to Chirag to join the opposition Grand Alliance.
“Both Tejashwi Yadav and Chirag are the future of Bihar and the two joining hands is a natural political outcome,” RJD national general secretary Shyam Rajak told ThePrint.
The possibility of Chirag joining hands with RJD haunts the BJP. “In the last assembly elections, the difference between Grand Alliance and NDA votes was barely 12,000. We are talking about 5 per cent votes,” a BJP MP said on condition of anonymity.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been unforgiving towards Chirag for playing the key role in pushing JD(U) to the third spot in the assembly because of which he is at the mercy of BJP.
However, it is generally acknowledged that Kumar, in his 70s, is playing the last leg of his politics. In 2024, while JD(U) and Nitish Kumar’s position is uncertain, Chirag will still have Paswan votes. The BJP’s urge to keep Chirag close is because of this.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)