The dilemma of Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP ahead of Bihar assembly polls

The dilemma of Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP ahead of Bihar assembly polls
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (2nd from right) along with Union Minister Ram Vilash Paswan (2nd from left) and MP Chirag Paswan (left) during swearing-in ceremony of ministers in Bihar. File photo/PTI

Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Ram Vilas Paswan could not pilot controversial farm bills related to the Essential Commodities Act in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

The veteran parliamentarian, a great political survivor, missed a full parliament session for the first time in his career due to a cardiac ailment. Like his delicate health, Paswan's politics had also come under pressure ahead of the crucial assembly polls in his home state of Bihar.

His son and political heir Chirag Paswan is taking a tough stance in the seat sharing talks within the National Democratic Alliance.

Like Paswan senior, who was able to survive in the turbulent political terrain of Bihar since 1960, it remains to be seen if Chirag can do an encore.

Paswan Senior holds several electoral records he has served six prime ministers in the Union Cabinet and has the highest victory margin in Lok Sabha polls.

The electoral margin record was bettered later, but he remains the youngest legislator in the Bihar assembly.

He has completed 50 years in electoral politics after being elected to Bihar Assembly first in 1969 and has won eight Lok Sabha elections, apart from three Rajya Sabha stints.

According to BJP insiders, Paswan had smaller role in the decision of the Narendra Modi government to completely overhaul the crucial provisions of essential commodities act, diluting the control of state and central government on procuring and storing wheat, rice and several other food articles. He had been in-charge of the food and consumer affairs ministry for more than six years.

The dilemma of Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP ahead of Bihar assembly polls
Jamui: LJP chief Ram Vilash Paswan addressing an election rally in Patna on Tuesday. PTI Photo (PTI10_6_2015_000263B)

These controversial reforms have been etched more on the BJP's political agenda than in the Lok Janshakti Party headed by Paswan.

In the union cabinet, the terms are overwhelmingly dictated by the prime minister as the allies are not essential for a parliamentary majority.

That is why there had been rumblings by the allies - Shiv Sena quit the NDA itself and recently Akali Dal exited from the ministry.

But paswan's admirers still recall how he played crucial role in acceptance of the path breaking Mandal Commission report as the Labour and Welfare minister in the V P Singh ministry as well as the communication reforms steered by the Vajpayee government.

They also credit him with giving a push for employment opportunities to Dalits and minorities as railways minister.

Chirag's dilemma

The dilemma of Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP ahead of Bihar assembly polls
Chirag Paswan

The younger paswan has not been successful in his demands for reducing the central role of Nitish Kumar in the NDA. Chirag feels the LJP would fare better under the BJP's leadership.

Nitish suspects that Chirag Paswan is the mouthpiece of disgruntled leaders in state unit of the BJP, who resent the NDA's reliance in Nitish's charisma.

Nitish had given a rude electoral jolt to the BJP juggernaut in 2015 by alligning with Lalu Prasad and the Congress.

The skirmishes between Nitish and the rookie Chirag Paswan has been lopsided as the BJP high command has repeatedly declared the Bihar assembly polls would be fought only under Nitish's leadership.

Despite the long survival by aligning with the BJP, the Congress and the Third Front during the last half century, Paswan's party has not been able to dominate Bihar's political landscape due to the limitations of his caste base.

Paswan was part of the dominant socialist party and its successors Janata Party and the Janata Dal, till he rebelled against the feudal control wielded by Lalu Prasad and his family in 2000. By then, the second Third Front government had collapsed in Delhi and the Janata Dal itself getting dismantled into Samajwadi Party, Biju Janata Dal, Janata Dal (Secular), Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (United).

As the shattered dream of the Third Front stared at Paswan, well wishers urged him to join either the BJP or the Congress and vie for leadership role in Bihar. The success of the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh prompted him to be adventurous to launch the Lok Janshakti Party. However, the LJP could win some seats only in alliance with other fronts. Thus it became part of the UPA at the Centre in 2004 and the Modi governments in 2014 and 2019.

But the twists in Bihar politics ensured he was on the losing side in three Assembly elections, which propelled Nitish Kumar to the top.

This time too, the LJP has little room to manoeuvre in the NDA, unless it takes a risk to cross over to the opposition UPA on the eve of elections, risking Ram Vilas Paswan's post as a cabinet minister.

It is indeed testing times for the LJP veteran's political instincts.

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