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Bihar

Chirag Paswan: ‘Opposition unity is an illusion’

Print edition : Aug 29, 2022 T+T-

Chirag Paswan: ‘Opposition unity is an illusion’

Chirag Paswan.

Chirag Paswan. | Photo Credit: ATUL YADAV

Interview with Chirag Paswan, president, Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas).

Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) leader Chirag Paswan was widely seen as a vote-splitter in the 2020 Bihar Assembly election and allegedly tasked by the BJP to downsize Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United). After “Narendra Modi’s Hanuman” (a sobriquet Paswan gave himself) accomplished that goal, though, he was forgotten by the national party. Will Chirag Paswan fill the vacuum now that Nitish Kumar has exited the National Democratic Alliance? Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

When Nitish Kumar formed a new government with the RJD, the BJP went to town saying it was a betrayal of the people’s mandate for Narendra Modi.
Of course, it was an outright betrayal of the mandate.
For Narendra Modi?
Yes, for Narendra Modi. The only reason why the NDA came back to power in Bihar in 2020, and whatever seats Nitish Kumar’s party managed to win, is because of Narendra Modi’s tireless campaign across the State. The time he devoted in the 2020 election was considerably more than he did before. Nitish Kumar has been betraying the people’s mandate repeatedly, and it is this unethical, opportunist line of politics that has reduced the JD (U) to a distant third position in the State.
The JD(U)’s dismal performance is attributed to your party’s role as a vote-splitter.
Yes, and I accept this with utmost pride and utmost humility. This demonstrates the strength and acceptability of the LJP among a cross-section of voters in Bihar. We fought on an increased number of seats to broaden our social base, but a part of the objective was to defeat the JD(U). That is the reason we did not field candidates where the BJP was contesting.

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Chirag Paswan believes the NDA came back to power in Bihar in 2020 only because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right).
Chirag Paswan believes the NDA came back to power in Bihar in 2020 only because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right). | Photo Credit: PTI/File Photo
As you thwarted the BJP’s upper caste votes’ smooth transfer to the JD(U), one would imagine you are a natural ally of the national party. Are you going back to the NDA?
Well, that is very well put together. At present my aim is not to cater to any particular vote bank but represent and voice the aspirations of the majority of Bihar’s population. That is the reason I do not emphasise on jaat [caste] but on jamaat [assembly of people]. The youth has an important role in politics; women are integral to politics. I would like to address their issues and aspirations collectively rather than fragment them on caste lines. My “Bihar first, Bihari first” vision is a document that has been drafted to cater to the interest of Bihar’s 13 crore people rather than appease any particular segment.
Is your emphasis on treating Bihar’s diverse population as a single unit a censure of the pursuers of caste-based census and Backward Classes politics?
Not at all. I strongly support a caste census. There are several government policies that are drafted to remedy exigencies faced by a specific community. We have had policies that were drafted especially for the minorities or for the Scheduled Castes, both by the States and the Union Government. It is imperative to know the exact population of a particular caste in order to determine the quantum of budgetary allocation to be made. In the absence of a caste census, the benefits of welfare schemes cannot be evenly distributed.
BJP president J.P. Nadda recently said that parties that nurture dynastic politics would not survive. His statement is being interpreted as the BJP’s bid to finish off regional parties.
That is not possible and I do not support his statement. The regional parties represent particular areas and have first-hand knowledge of the issues and developmental requirements of those areas. That is also the reason why regional parties have only grown in strength, be it West Bengal or Bihar or even Uttar Pradesh, before the BJP’s ascension to power.
Highlights
  • Chirag Paswan accepts the LJP’s role as vote-splitter and says their objective was to defeat the JD(U).
  • He says his aim is not to cater to any particular vote bank and that he emphasises jamaat [assembly of people] rather than jaat [caste]
  • He says his “Bihar first, Bihari first” vision is a document drafted to cater to the interest of Bihar’s 13 crore people rather than appease any particular segment.
  • He strongly favours a caste census, which he believes will enable the benefits of welfare schemes to be evenly distributed.
The BJP ascended to power in Uttar Pradesh only after usurping the vote banks of the regional parties. Does that make you apprehensive?
That will also be a phase. If someone thinks that the regional parties will be completely wiped out, that is not going to happen.
After the Assembly election in Bihar, we saw the BJP leaving the LJP in the lurch in the face of intra-party rebellions. We also saw a growing camaraderie between you and Tejashwi Yadav.
Those who have closely watched the LJP’s politics know that our opposition to any individual leader or political party is issue centric. We have been part of both the NDA and the United Progressive Alliance but whenever we disagreed with a policy, we voiced our concerns without fear of upsetting political equations. We opposed demonetisation, we opposed the Land Acquisition Bill. We were vocal against the dilution of the SC/ST Act and we made sure that grievances were heard and redressed. We believe that as a distinct political party, we have the right to oppose or disagree with what an alliance partner attempts to impose on us.
I share a personal bond with Tejashwi Yadav; our friendship stretches over decades. Similarly, I have a personal equation with Nitish Kumar, though I disapprove of his political manoeuvres, such as showcasing the Saat Nishchay [seven pledges], which merely pledges to provide basic amenities and infrastructure requirements to the downtrodden, as a governance milestone.
Who would you choose as an ally, the BJP or the RJD, more so when there is a clear ideological demarcation between the two parties?
I am clear in my mind that I will go along with whoever supports my “Bihar first, Bihari first” vision-document. If nobody does, I will strive for it independently as I did in the last election, but not compromise my politics. I cannot work on anybody else’s agenda. In Bihar, to be honest, the BJP doesn’t even have an agenda; it was working on Nitish Kumar’s agenda.

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Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s name is being floated as a consensus candidate for the opposition.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s name is being floated as a consensus candidate for the opposition. | Photo Credit: PTI Photo
There is an increasing talk of opposition unity ahead of the 2024 general election. Of late, many leaders are floating Nitish Kumar’s name as a consensus candidate for the opposition.
Those “many leaders” are mostly from Nitish Kumar’s own party. In any case, opposition unity is an illusion. Events of the past underscore that as soon as these opposition parties come together, there are acrimonious plots to grab the Prime Minister’s chair. Their conflicting self-interests mean they soon split on a bitter note. My Chief Minister [Nitish Kumar] blindly believes that he deserves to be the Prime Minister. It is the ambition of people like Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee that divides the opposition.