Patna: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar is showing signs of strain, with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and Ramvilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party fighting it out — through statements, as of now.
The LJP says it’s an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and not the JD(U). JD(U) leaders, on their part, maintain that they would be better off without the LJP.
Such has been the acrimony that the LJP has actually removed one of its office-bearers for declaring that the unity in NDA was “chhatani” (rock-like). On Wednesday, LJP’s national general secretary Shahnawaz Ahmad Kaifi announced the removal of the party’s Munger district chief Ramchandra Bharati, saying he had violated party guidelines.
“There was no need for you to make a statement on the NDA,” the letter by Kaifi to Bharti announced.
“It was decided that only the national president of the party was entitled to talk about LJP and its association with NDA. Bharti violated it,” LJP spokesperson Ashraf Ansari told ThePrint, stressing that the final call on the party contesting the assembly polls with the NDA will be taken by senior party leader Chirag Paswan.
“We would like to remain with the NDA. But let us see how things unfold,” Ansari added.
A rebellious Chirag Paswan
Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s political heir and son, Chirag Paswan, has been in a rebellious mood since 24 April when he accused the Nitish government of failing to provide ration cards to 1.45 million BPL beneficiaries. He put the Nitish government on the defensive, forcing it to say that the process was being speeded up.
Chirag who represents the Jamui Parliamentary Seat was also openly critical of Nitish Kumar in March for not allowing migrant labourers to return home.
And in the last month, he has upped the ante not only criticising the Nitish government over its Covid-19 handling but also for failing to promote industry and religious tourism in the state. He has also written open letters to the chief minister claiming that law and order was deteriorating in the state.
However, it is the statements made by Chirag on 25 June that have really unsettled the JD(U).
Chirag, while holding a meeting of his office-bearers across the state through video conferencing, asked them to be prepared to fight the polls under any circumstance but also declared that his party was a partner of NDA government at the Centre but not in Bihar.
“We are allies of the BJP and not the JD(U). I want to be the CM some day,” he said at the conference. “But it’s ok if the BJP has made Nitish Kumar the CM candidate for 2020 assembly polls.”
He also praised UP Chief Minister Adityanath, saying he had done a better job than the Bihar government in handling the Covid-19 crisis.
A rattled JD(U) has since responded. “Every party has its own agenda. But if Chirag Paswan has some personal grievances, he should meet CM Nitish Kumar and thrash it out,” JD(U) minister Shyam Rajak told The Print.
“The statements by Chirag are unfortunate,” said the JD(U)’s Rajiv Ranjan Prasad. “Nitish Kumar not only has the approval of the people of Bihar but also of Chirag’s father Ram Vilas Paswan.”
JD(U) leaders also privately concede that they are not happy with the LJP vouching for the BJP on every issue.
Efforts to call truce
LJP leaders complain that the chief minister does not respond to phone calls from Chirag Paswan. “Unlike the CM, Chirag has to move across the state in cars. When he meets people having genuine grievances and makes statements, JD(U) leaders treat it as dissent,” said a senior LJP leader.
According to a top BJP minister, Nitish, after the series of statements issued by Chirag, had telephoned Ram Vilas Paswan to discuss the issue. “We thought the two had settled the issue. But the recent dismissal of a LJP leader for making a routine statement proves that the matter still hangs in balance,” the BJP minister said.
BJP leaders acknowledge that Ram Vilas Paswan has handed over the party to Chirag and it will be the son who gets to make the final call on important issues. BJP general secretary Bhupendra Yadav had recently met Chirag Paswan to find out why he was unhappy with the chief minister and the JD(U).
A case of mutual distrust
At the heart of the rift appears to be issues over seat sharing.
The LJP has sought tickets for 41 assembly states in the election scheduled for later this year. In the 2015 assembly elections, it had contested in 45 seats but won a mere two in the 243-member House.
This time, however, the LJP has been claiming that the JD(U) is reluctant to part with seats as it fears that post the assembly results, the combined tally of the BJP and LJP may be more than that of JD(U), weakening Nitish’s claim to the chief minister’s chair.
“Nitish Kumar is trying the same trick he played on Upendra Kushwaha of the RLSP during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls,” a LJP leader said.
“The RLSP had three Lok Sabha seats after the 2014 polls. But it was asked to scale down to two in the 2019 polls. The RLSP walked out of the NDA to the Grand Alliance.”
After Nitish Kumar rejoined the NDA in 2017, there was pressure on him to induct a minister from the LJP. The chief minister obliged, appointing Chirag’s uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras as a minister. Paras was made an MLC, with the ticket handed to him from the BJP’s quota in the alliance.
In 2019, however, Paras was elected to the Lok Sabha, and since then the state government has not accommodated a minister from the LJP.
Now with 12 MLCs to be inducted from the governor’s quota, the BJP is interested in giving LJP a seat. Under an old deal, the JD(U) was to get seven of these seat, with the remaining five to go to the BJP.
Sources have told ThePrint that the JD(U) is insistent that the BJP give up one seat to accommodate the LJP.
An age-old rift
The mistrust between Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar goes back to the 2005 February assembly polls when the chief minister attempted to take away 17 of the then 28 LJP MLAs in an abortive bid to form a government in a hung assembly.
After Nitish’s re-entry into the NDA, JD(U) leaders have repeatedly pointed out that in the 2010 assembly polls, the then BJP-JDU alliance was able to get 206 of the 243 seats despite the fact that Ram Vilas Paswan was with Lalu.
In the run-up to those elections, Nitish had reached out to all Dalits in the state, 21 castes in all, except the Paswans, coining the umbrella term Mahadalits.
Of late, however, he has shied away from mentioning Mahadalits but the LJP believes that Nitish would like to ease out the LJP from the alliance and reclaim the Mahadalit votes.
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.