As Bihar inches towards Assembly elections,‭ ‬Paswans cross swords with‭ ‬coalition leader‭ ‬Nitish Kumar

Published : July 06, 2020 14:12 IST

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (right) with Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan (centre) and his son Chirag Paswan in Patna, on January 14, 2019. Photo: Ranjeet Kumar

Lok Janshkathi Party‭ (‬LJP‭) ‬founder Ram Vilas Paswan‭’‬s‭ ‬74th birthday‭ ‬on‭ ‬July‭ ‬5‭ ‬signalled some new churning in the political equations of Bihar‭‬,‭ ‬the Hindi heartland State‭ ‬where the Assembly elections are expected to be held‭ ‬in October-November‭ ‬2020‭‬.‭ ‬Top leaders of‭ ‬the country‬,‭ ‬including Prime Minister Narendra Modi‭‬,‭ ‬Home Minister Amit Shah‭‬,‭ ‬Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and a number of others from both the ruling coalition and the opposition parties greeted Paswan on his birthday.‭ ‬One conspicuous exception was‭ ‬Bihar Nitish Kumar,‭ ‬Chief Minister of Bihar,‭ ‬president of the‭ ‬Janata Dal‭ (‬United‭)‬,‭ ‬and numero uno of the National Democratic Alliance‭ ( ‬NDA‭ ) ‬rulling the State.‭ ‬Over the past couple of months,‭ ‬there have been many mutually critical and adversarial statements from the leadership of the LJP and JD‭( ‬U‭ )‬,‭ ‬partners in the State government along with the BJP,‭ ‬but Nitish Kumar not extending the basic courtesy of conveying his birthday wishes to Paswan is being perceived in Bihar political circles as a definite pointer to some major turbulence in the coalition.‭

The hostile‭ ‬exchanges between the leaders of the LJP and JD(U‭) ‬had been‭ ‬taking place over many issues,‭ ‬but what has apparently upset the Chief Minister greatly is the‭ ‬recent COVID-19‭ ‬criticism by the LJP‭’‬s young national‭ ‬president Chirag Paswan,‭ ‬who is also the son of Ram Vilas Paswan.‭ ‬Commenting the palpable deficiencies in the‭ ‬State governement‭’‬s management of the Covid situation,‭ ‬Chirag Paswan,‭ ‬who is also the NDA‭’‬s Lok Sabha member from Jamui,‭ ‬had‭ ‬accused the government as of suffering from‭ “‬governance deficit at the top‭”‬.‭ ‬Apparently,‭ ‬there were no concrete or pressing reasons for Chirag Paswan to come up with such a caustic and open criticism of the Chief Minister‭ ‬.‭

In this context‬,‭ ‬political observers are of the view that the younger Paswan‭’‬s comment should be read in conjunction with Ram Vilas Paswan‭’‬s innate political acumen to be on the winning side in almost all the major elections in the State.‭ ‬The LJP has been‭ ‬part of the ruling coalition at the Centre for‭ ‬continuous‭ ‬16‭ ‬years,‭ ‬ten of‭ ‬them‭ ‬as part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance‭ (‬UPA‭) ‬After being part of the UPA government‭ ‬during‭ ‬2004-14,‭ ‬the‭ “‬political weathercock‭”‬ that is‭ ‬Paswan moved over to the BJP led NDA just before the‭ ‬2014‭ ‬elections‬.‭ ‬There is a stream of opinion in Bihar‭’‬s politics that Nitish Kumar‭’‬s popular appeal has diminished in recent times on account of factors such as‭ ‬the‭ ‬general mismanagement of the Covid crisis and the‭ ‬physical distancing he has maintained from the masses over the past three months by completely shutting himself out of public engagements‭ ‬and confining himself to his residence in Patna,‭ ‬the State capital.‭

Never one to take‭ ‬caustic comments‭ ‬on‭ ‬his governance record lightly,‭ ‬Nitish Kumar struck back making it clear that the LJP would not get even one of the‭ ‬12‭ ‬nominated seats,‭ ‬in the‭ ‬Legislative Council.‭ ‬A Senior JD(U‭) ‬leader threw light on Nitish Kumar‭ ‬response as follows.‭ “‬The Chief Minister is appalled that the younger Paswan had been crossing‭ ‬the limits repeatedly by‭ ‬launching disparaging criticisms‭ ‬against the State government.‭ ‬Chirag Paswan has yet not proved his worth and is still under his father‭’‬s shadow.‭ ‬He should at least remember that.‭”‬ Indications are that the JD(U‭) ‬proposes to split the‭ ‬12‭ ‬MLC seats equally with the BJP.‭

Even as the JD‭ (‬U‭) ‬is moving ahead in this direction,‭ ‬LJP insiders say‭ ‬that they would strike back during the seat sharing discussions for the‭ ‬Assembly elections.‭ ‬The LJP‭’‬s plan,‭ ‬apparently,‭ ‬is to play around with the ambitions of the BJP in Bihar‭ ‬by demanding‭ ‬a change of the coalition‭’‬s chief‭ ‬ministerial candidate.‭ ‬The party‭’‬s idea is to project a BJP leader or JD(U‭) ‬leader other than Nitish Kumar as the candidate for the top post.

Amidst all this,‭ ‬smaller opposition parties like the Congress and the Jan Adhikar Party,‭ ‬led by former Lok Sabha member Pappu Yadav have started wooing‭ ‬the‭ ‬LJP to the opposition ranks.‭ ‬Pappu‭ ‬Yadav has even gone to the extent of stating‭ ‬that Chirag Paswan would be projected as‭ ‬the chief ministerial candidate.‭ ‬There are no concrete indications that the LJP would‭ ‬take the bait,‭ ‬but the conspicuous silence of the party‭’‬s leadership is seen by‭ ‬political‭ ‬and‭ ‬politicians,‭ ‬including some‭ ‬in the‭ ‬NDA,‭ ‬as one pregnant with stormy possibilities‭.‭