Millennium Post

Paswan's return, big boost for BJP

Described years ago by his bête noire, Lalu Prasad Yadav, as abhaga (unfortunate) Paswan’, the Lok Janshakti Party leader, Ram Vilas Paswan, is on his way to become ‘Bhagyawan (fortunate) Pawan’ as he positions himself to play a crucial role in the post election-scenario in Bihar. Paswan’s return to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance comes close to 12 years after he quit the Vajpayee government to protest against the 2002 communal riots of Gujarat.

Paswan has been positioning himself as a champion of Muslim rights since 2003, but in a turn about, he has virtually endorsed the BJP position that 2002 riots cannot remain cut-off date for ever. His son, Chirag, went a step further, saying that the courts had given a clean chit to BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate and Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi.

Also, in the wake of the hung verdict in the first of the two 2005 assembly elections in Bihar, Pawan, who had the numbers to play kingmaker, insisted that he would lend his weight only to the formation that would make a Muslim chief minister.

While returning to the NDA fold, Paswan asserted he was not compromising on his secular credentials. ‘Secularism is at the core of LJP’s philosophy and there is no questioning of abandoning it. The LJP will have its own manifesto. Besides, we will be joining the NDA and not the BJP’, Paswan has reportedly said, adding ‘there is no need to tell the world that Ram Vilas Paswan is secular. Our party has greatly suffered for the cause of secularism. I had even left the NDA when such an occasion arose’.

The veteran Dalit leader talked to Narendra Modi on phone after which a formal announcement on the tie-up was made. The LJP is likely to contest seven seats against 32 by the BJP as part of the pre-poll arrangements. The BJP leaders have agreed to let the LJP contest, among others, from Hajipur, Samastipur, Jamui, Munger and Khagaria. The LJP wants Ara too but the BJP is offering Vaishali or Jhanjharpur instead. For Aurangabad seat, the Saffron party wants the LJP to field rebel JD(U) MP, Sushil Singh as its nominee.

The BJP agreed to leave Hajipur from where Paswan contests; he was an MP from Hajpur but lost in 2009. While Chirag will fight from Jamui, younger brother of LJP chief, Ram Vilas Paswan, Ram Chandra Paswan, will be fielded from Samastipur in the Lok Sabha elections. The four seats -- Khagaria, Munger, Vaishali and Nalanda, which the LJP got, are stronghold of JD(U) and RJD. The Nalanda seat was earlier represented by Nitish Kumar and is currently with the JD(U). BJP’s Giriraj Singh was seeking to contest from Nalanda but now he will have to opt out for some other seat.
Paswan gained by aligning with the BJP as he got seven seats while the RJD and the Congress were offering only five which were not of his choice. And, what the BJP gained by aligning with Paswan? Two to three per cent of Bihar’s votes is the BJP’s target as it seeks to improve its tally from the current 12. In 2009, the BJP clocked 13.93 per cent as a JD(U) ally.

Also, six per cent of Bihar’s votes are Paswans, spread across the state, and they vote as a community that rallies behind the leader. In 2009, LJP clocked 6.55 per cent as an RJD ally.
The development more or less ends any possibility of a secular alliance between the LJP, RJD and the Congress. ‘Sonia Gandhi’s party has assumed the LJP is nothing; it is irrelevant’ but it is not so, said Paswan.

Change in Paswan’s attitude to the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate is a huge gain for the BJP and Modi personally. Paswan’s 3-4 per cent caste backing is seen to be transferable and the BJP leaders feel it will give the party a boost in its bid to attract at least some measure of backing from all sections in Bihar. It is evident that Paswan’s departure is a serious blow to Lalu.

Paswan’s new position is very significant as he had left the NDA on the question of Gujarat riots and is now returning to it under the leadership of Modi. Besides giving the BJP an image makeover, its position in Bihar, which sends 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha, will be bolstered by Paswan’s alliance. Getting, at least, 20 of these 40 seats, is essential for the BJP to cross the 200-mark. Paswan is confident that the BJP-led NDA will form the next government and he will find a birth in the Modi cabinet. The return of Paswan to the NDA fold is also important for the BJP to show that the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate enjoys acceptability and can draw allies.

Asked if his joining the NDA will affect his Muslim votes, Paswan said yes, there could be in the seats with Muslim majority but his party is expected do well on its own strength. ‘People know I resigned from the NDA after 2002 Gujarat riots and stick to the lofty ideals of secularism’.

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