On the campaign trail

Will Chirag catch the light?

Print edition : November 20, 2020

Chirag Paswan, president of the Lok Janshakti Party, addressing a rally in Buxar on October 25. Photo: PTI

Chirag Paswan posing for the media with his mother before resuming his campaign, which had been interrupted by his father’s death on October 8, in Patna on October 21. Photo: PTI

Chirag Paswan pulls no punches as he takes on Nitish Kumar in Bihar while asserting allegiance to Narendra Modi and the BJP.

Chirag Paswan is increasingly belligerent towards Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as he attempts to create a constituency for himself in Bihar as a young and articulate leader, committed to providing solutions to the issues of unemployment and corruption. The 37-year-old politician carries the weight of his father Ram Vilas Paswan’s legacy—that of a consummate politician with friends in every political camp and massive grassroots connect.

In his election rallies, which he resumed on October 21 after completing his father’s funeral rituals, Chirag Paswan minces no words in taking on Nitish’s “corruption prone” and “complacent” 15-year rule. His speeches are extempore and aimed at working up the crowd, with whom he maintains effortless eye contact and also communicates with a defined, yet not imposing, body language. “Sher ka bachcha hoga to jungle cheer ke nikal jayega…. Main jungle cheerne nikla hoon” (The offspring of a lion tears through the jungle, I am out to tear through the jungle), he announced at the very onset of his campaign, to wild applause from supporters.
Also read: Chirag Paswan interview during the 2020 Bihar polls campaign

In the days that followed, he made it evident that his objective was to berate Nitish Kumar without any inhibition and script an epitaph to his rule, even while vowing to remain committed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) all his life. On October 25, he went so far as to tweet: “I request you to please vote for LJP candidates to implement #Bihar1stBihari1st. Everywhere else vote for the BJP. The coming government will be a #Nitish-free government.” A week earlier he had taken to Twitter to urge Narendra Modi to “follow the coalition dharma”, underlining that if the situation required him to target LJP, he should not shy away from doing it. He said that he could never forget the support extended by the Prime Minister when his father was in hospital.

In stark contrast, and in keeping with speculation that his departure from the NDA had been scripted by the BJP’s top leadership to allow him to target Nitish Kumar, Chirag Paswan is attempting to limn a corrupt image of the Bihar Chief Minister in rally after rally, at times even vowing to put him in jail. While thus targeting the Chief Minister, he casts himself as representing Bihar’s disgruntled youth, with power-packed oratory and aggressive countenance.

Addressing a campaign in Dumraon of Buxar on October 25, Chirag Paswan said that those who had engaged in corrupt practices in the “Saat Nischay”—the Janata Dal (United)’s vision document for 2015—would be investigated and sent to jail. “I said that if they’re guilty, they’ll be sent to jail after the probe. How can it be possible that the CM doesn’t know about large-scale scams and corruption? He’s involved too. If not, it’ll be clear in a probe. But the people and I believe that he’s involved, he’s corrupt,” he said.

He claimed that the State’s liquor policy was enabling smuggling despite complete prohibition and accused the Chief Minister of direct involvement in the “scam”. “Why is the liquor ban is not being reviewed? Is liquor smuggling not going on? Everyone is getting it. The government and administration are colluding. There is not one Minister in the Bihar government who doesn’t know about it. If you don’t want to review it, it means you yourself are involved,” he said.

He also highlighted the snub that he apparently received from Nitish Kumar at the Patna airport when his father’s body was flown in from New Delhi. He told an English news channel in an interview that Nitish Kumar ignored his greeting. “I touched his feet and he ignored me. Everyone saw that. I am shocked that because of our personal feelings, we even forget basic shishtachar [courtesy],” he said. The image of the Bihar Chief Minister that he has been working on is that of a brittle, ageing politician with a lot of hubris.
Also read: Nitish Kumar: Alone in a battle

Chirag Paswan’s assertions come with an understated tinge of Hindutva. In most of his public appearances, he is seen sporting a Hindu headgear or a red tika. His choice of words, such as likening himself to the Hindu god Hanuman, while pledging allegiance to Modi, also hints at his ideological slant. In his vision document for the Assembly election, the LJP president promised to build a grand Sita Mata Mandir and construct a six-lane Sitamarhi-Ayodhya road. “Lord Ram is incomplete without mother Sita, so the need of the hour is to develop a corridor connecting Ayodhya’s Ram temple with Sitamarhi through a bigger temple for her,” he said in Sitamarhi district on October 25. He also offered prayers in the Sita temple at Puraundha in Sitamarhi. Earlier, he had described himself a descendent of Shabari, an ardent devotee of Lord Ram.

Eyeing the sympathy vote

Chirag Paswan is agile and vocal in his roadshows and mingles freely and warmly with the crowd. He has been drawing considerable crowds of late, for instance in Jehanabad on October 21. His campaign is also aimed at consolidating the sympathy vote that he may draw on account of his father’s untimely demise. On October 21, when he resumed his campaign, he appeared before the media along with his mother, Renu, at their S.K. Puri residence in Patna and touched her feet. “Achhe se jeet ke aao” (come back a winner), his mother said as she blessed him. Earlier, on October 10, while lighting his father’s pyre, Chirag Paswan collapsed at the Digha ghat on the bank of the Ganga. His cousins saved him from crashing to the ground. When he resumed campaigning, he told the crowd at Paliganj in rural Patna that he cried for his father for hours every night. “I was in the middle of this battle when he passed away. Would he have wanted me to continue sobbing?” he asked.
Also read: Ram Vilas Paswan (1946:2020): A winner for the marginalised

He has also been displaying some of his father’s trademark pragmatism. Even as he maintains steadfast loyalty to the BJP, he has been careful not to dismiss the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD) overtures. Overall, there is a definite attempt in his campaign to emerge as the face of the youth. His party’s vision document has plans to build a web portal where job seekers and employers can connect directly. The constitution of a youth commission, separate toilets for women in all block headquarters, gram panchayat headquarters and markets, and connecting all rivers by setting up canals to prevent floods and droughts are some of the other promises.

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