New Delhi: LJP leader Pashupati Kumar Paras, sworn in Wednesday as the Union minister for food processing industries, has earlier served as a minister in his home state Bihar four times. However, according to his former ministerial colleagues in the state, he was almost invisible.
“I do not recall anything he did,” said a former Bihar minister from the BJP.
“He used to sit quietly in cabinet meetings without uttering a word. We recognised him as the brother of Ram Vilas Paswan,” added RJD leader Shyam Rajak, who was a minister in the short-lived Mahagathbandhan government led by Nitish Kumar before the latter returned to the NDA.
Another former RJD minister recalled an instance from party chief Lalu Prasad’s stint as chief minister from 1990-95, when the government was looking to set up a ministerial committee to negotiate with agitating government employees demanding a higher salary. Paras, the former minister noted, was minister of social welfare at the time.
“Someone sitting there suggested that Paras should be included in the committee. Lalu was shocked,” said the leader, not wishing to be named. “Paras and meetings. That is not possible,” the leader quoted Lalu as having said.
Paras, the leader added, was there simply because he was the brother of Ram Vilas Paswan. Paras’ only utility, he said, was when someone had to negotiate with the late Ram Vilas Paswan, who had been a Union minister under eight prime ministers.
A politician for over four decades, Paras largely stayed under the shadow of his brother. However, he has been trying to come into his own since Paswan’s death last October.
Earlier this year, he focused the spotlight firmly on himself when, along with the support of four other MPs, he ousted nephew Chirag Paswan as the leader of the LJP parliamentary party. This left Chirag alone in the party’s pool of six MPs.
The party founded by Paras’ brother and Chirag’s father has since been divided, with both uncle and nephew projecting themselves as heirs to Paswan’s legacy.
“My elder brother Ram Vilas Paswan is my God. I will handle both the ministry and organisation,” Paras told the media after his induction, alleging that Chirag destroyed democracy in the LJP.
Meanwhile, Chirag, who is drawing massive crowds, is portraying his uncle as a family betrayer who has been inducted into the Union Cabinet because of the “man (read Nitish Kumar) who insulted Ram Vilas Paswan several times”.
The split, after all, followed Chirag’s campaign against Nitish during last year’s Bihar assembly elections that is seen to have eaten into the NDA’s vote share. Nitish and Paswan were known to share an uneasy relationship, where they got along at times but were on opposite ends at others.
The fact that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and the Janata Dal (United) were the only ones who did not utter a word on the occasion of Paswan’s first birth anniversary after his death, on 5 July, is not helping matters for Paras.
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Brother’s point-person in Bihar
Paras, according to his profile on the Lok Sabha website, was born on 12 July 1952, six years after his brother, in Khagaria. He holds a BEd degree as well as a BA (Hons) in Political Science. In the current Lok Sabha, he represents Hajipur, a constituency reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs).
While his brother was alive, Paras served as his point-person in Bihar as Paswan himself pursued his interest in Delhi politics. The latter depended on Paras to run his party, and keep contact with his MPs and MLAs. Paras also handled the funds provided to him to run the party.
The fact that his own politics centred around his brother is something Paras openly acknowledges.
When the political atmosphere got charged up after the fodder scam in 1996, a section of the erstwhile Janata Dal demanded Lalu Prasad’s removal. While Lalu subsequently sacked five of his ministers, he did not fire Paras despite knowing that Ram Vilas Paswan was fanning dissent among Janata Dal MLAs.
This was seen as a peace signal to Paswan. However, Paras tendered his resignation from the ministry. “I cannot continue in the ministry and have even returned my official car,” he told this reporter, insisting that he had not consulted his elder brother. No one believed him and it was acknowledged that Ram Vilas Paswan had rejected Lalu’s gesture for peace.
However, it was not that Paras did not have his own views. After the February 2005 assembly elections threw up a hung house, the LJP — having 27 MLAs — was seen to hold the key to government formation.
Paras is believed to have privately held the view that the party should back Nitish and form a government in Bihar. “But Ram Vilas ji was not opening his cards and when the NDA attempted to break away LJP MLAs, Paras got a chartered plane and flew his remaining 16 MLAs to Delhi. Despite having strong anti-Lalu views, Paras ji crossed over to Lalu whenever his brother wanted,” said a former LJP MLA.
The situation finally resulted in the state going through another election within the same year.
Through the years, Paras also served as a gateway to the state government for Paswan. If Paswan needed a favour from the state government, it was Paras who called Nitish Kumar. He got on well with Nitish even when he and Paswan were on opposite sides.
The minister and the ministry
As Union minister, Paswan had a reputation for bringing mega projects to Bihar in rails, pharmaceuticals, communication and whichever ministry he headed, including a railway bridge over the Ganga, and creating the northeast zone of the railways headquartered Hajipur.
However, local politicians say they have no such expectations from Paras.
“He will be invisible during his tenure as in Bihar. He would do well to operationalise the food processing park set up by his predecessor Harsimrat Kaur Badal in Khagaria three years ago,” said a BJP MLA, pointing out that Paras was once the MLA from the Alauli assembly segment in Khagaria district.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
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