Five LJP MPs to form separate group in Lok Sabha, leaving Chirag Paswan stranded in what is seen as a Nitish Kumar strike

Published : June 14, 2021 15:11 IST

LJP leader Chirag Paswan arrives to meet party leader Pasupati Kumar Paras, at his house in New Delhi, on June 14. Photo: ATUL YADAV/PTI

“He has teeth in his stomach,” is a comment that former Chief Minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad has made often about Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar. In colloquial Bhojpuri, such a person is considered to be dangerous because he or she can bite long after one would have expected them to. On the night of June 13 (Sunday), Nitish seemed to prove Lalu, his erstwhile associate in the socialist-social justice movement of Bihar, right by effecting the defection of five Lok Sabha members of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). Now, LJP chief Chirag Paswan remains the only MP of his party.

Officially, the LJP and JD(U) are fellow constituents of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ruling at the Centre, but in reality, Chirag Paswan is Nitish Kumar’s bête noire. The reason: the LJP fought against the JD(U) in the last State Assembly election held in October-November 2020 and caused a significant reduction in the JD (U)’s tally from 71 to 43 seats. The LJP’s disruptive role resulted in the “junior” partner BJP winning 74 seats.

Over the past seven months Nitish Kumar had raised a din of criticism against the LJP and Chirag Paswan, both in NDA forums and outside, but neither Paswan nor the BJP leadership took it seriously. However, the lethal Sunday night strike, made the BJP leadership realise that his was no empty rant. Indeed, the teeth in the stomach was shown to have prodigious biting power.

As things stand on June 14, Chirag Paswan, finds himself isolated, with all the other five Lok Sabha members of the party, including his uncle, Pasupati Kumar Paras, and cousin, Prince Raj, deserting him. The five MPs have written to the Lok Sabha Speaker asking that they be treated as a separate group. By all indications, the five rebel MPs will elect Paras as the new leader in place of Chirag Paswan.

NDA insiders told Frontline that the falling out of uncle and nephew was a foregone conclusion since they have not been on talking terms since early 2021. The party’s founder, Ram Vilas Paswan, an acclaimed Dalit leader, had passed away in October 2020 before the Assembly election results came out.

The realpolitik manoeuvres that preceded the mighty blow on Chirag Paswan’s political career apparently involve the promise of ministerial births for Pasupati Kumar Paras and his associates in the Union and State cabinets. Paras, a first-time MP from Hajipur, a constituency that Ram Vilas Paswan held for multiple terms, told the media that he would remain in the NDA and that his group of five MPs is committed to supporting Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a position clearly contradictory to the one held so far by Chirag Paswan. “I have not split the party, I have saved it,” Paras claimed.

NDA insiders stated that among the several factors contributing to the June 13 coup, the prominent one was Chirag Paswan's “palpable arrogance, overconfidence and aloofness”. Even when the LJP's only MLA joined the JD(U), Chirag Paswan refused to see the warning signs and did not take reports of possible defections from his parliamentary party seriously. With this massive defection, Nitish Kumar has sent out a warning to all parties in the State that he still has political striking power. His next big target, according to political observers, is the Congress legislative party, which has 19 members in the Assembly. Apparently, as many as 11 Congress MLAs are in touch with the BJP, the JD(U) and other NDA constituents. Reportedly, there are no takers for the NDA’s overtures to the RJD, the principal opposition party which has 75 MLAs.