New Delhi: Bihar seems set to witness a multi-corner contest in the assembly elections as Chirag Paswan is positioning himself as the kingmaker and preparing his father Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) to leave the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the state.
The LJP is looking to fight the polls on 143 seats of the total 243 in Bihar, presenting Chirag as an alternative to Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) head Nitish Kumar for the future.
But the party will not contest against its NDA partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on any seat to ensure smooth relations at the Centre.
On Friday, several posters were seen in Patna with the slogan “Modi se bair nahi, Nitish teri khair nahi” (No issues with Modi, but Nitish, you’re done) in a bid to target the CM.
The final decision on whether it will fight solo, however, will be made at the party’s parliamentary meeting Saturday evening.
Asked about the move to go solo, senior LJP leader and party Khagaria MP Mehboob Ali Kaiser said, “Final decision will be taken in parliamentary board in evening but it looks like things are moving in that direction.”
Kaiser said the party is contemplating the move as the NDA is unwilling to give it enough number of winnable seats.
“We are not getting enough seats. Forget enough seats, the main question is favourable seats which we can win. If you give us such seats where we have no presence, there is no use of it. So it will be good for both to fight alone on more seats to expand party reach for the future,” said Kaiser.
“But it will be decided by Chirag Paswan, who is interacting with Amit Shah and J.P. Nadda,” he added.
In the last few days, LJP chief Chirag has met BJP president Nadda several times. He also met Home Minister Amit Shah Thursday. However, sources in the party said the leaders didn’t reach any consensus in these meetings.
Another party leader who didn’t wish to be named highlighted that LJP is in the NDA at the national level but not at the state level — a claim that JD(U) leader K.C. Tyagi has also made publicly — so “technically we will be in NDA, but not in Bihar, if we fight alone”.
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Friendly alliance with BJP, not with Nitish
LJP leaders claimed that the party will not fight on seats which the BJP will fight, and will back a BJP CM in the post-poll scenario.
“We have always demanded that BJP should fight more seats than JD(U) since Nitish Kumar’s popularity is low and he is losing grip on the state due to mismanagement on migrant issue and corona,” said a second LJP leader who didn’t wish to be named.
So far, the NDA hasn’t been to formulate its seat-sharing arrangement for this month’s assembly elections.
“It is a win-win situation for BJP and LJP both, as BJP will get a chance to fight on more number of seats to position itself as leading partner if it performs better, and to stake claim on chief ministership in post-poll scenarios. Secondly, candidates with upper caste base who will not find a place in BJP ticket list can fight on LJP tickets to maximise gains,” said the second leader.
“In 2015 assembly election, the BJP contested on 157 seats, which will be lower (this time) in any case due to alliance with JD(U). LJP will get a chance to position Chirag as an alternative young face in state politics against Nitish Kumar, and can increase the state footprint,” said the leader.
A third LJP leader said that in politics, it’s not necessary that everything will be visible with naked eye. The party’s strategy is simple — play on anti-Nitish votes and catch pro-Modi votes on JD(U) seats. It will help both.
However, in this political arithmetic, it is yet to be seen how CM Nitish Kumar takes this proxy fight. The BJP has already announced Kumar as the NDA leader, saying the alliance will win over 200 seats.
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Projecting Chirag as the future leader
One of the LJP leaders quoted above noted the party’s plan to project Chirag Paswan as the leader for the future.
“Tejashwi Yadav from RJD is positioning himself as a young face among youth voters but he does not have appeal to swing rest of youth, except Yadavs, due to his limitations. Chirag has more of a chance to position himself as a young aspiring leader so he has launched the ‘Naya Bihar Yuva Bihar’ campaign,” said the leader.
“We know this is the last election of Nitish Kumar. There is a leadership vacuum in Bihar so Chirag can fill that void,” he said.
However, a JD(U) leader said on condition of anonymity, “He is in a hurry to fulfill his ambition. He is taking a risk in attacking Nitish Kumar, who is the most popular leader in Bihar. Most of the time, mausam vibhag (meteorological department) prediction fails, this time Chirag will feel the taste.”
The leader was referring to Paswan’s reputation of traveling with the wind.
An LJP leader quoted above said in 2015 elections, LJP fought 42 seats and got 4:83 per cent vote share.
“This is the best time to expand party because of Nitish Kumar’s anti-incumbency. If we will not show courage, we will be like a fringe player in Bihar. Question before us is to become at least kingmaker if not king,” he said.
“If we fight on more seats, we can get more seats and in a fluid situation can become kingmaker,” he added.
In a similar situation in 2005, LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan, then minister under United Progressive Alliance regime, had fought against another UPA constituent — Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal — on all 178 seats that RJD fought on. This made the ruling party’s comeback impossible.
It was said that Paswan fought to cut RJD’s anti-incumbency votes to dent Nitish Kumar. LJP won 29 seats in its best performance at the time. The fractured mandate made it difficult for Nitish Kumar to become the CM. After a brief President’s Rule and then elections, Kumar became CM.
But this was the time when the Nitish-Paswan rivalry started, which Nitish never forgot. Now, Paswan’s son is back to challenge the CM.
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