Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party is taking on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and the Janata Dal (United) in the 2020 Bihar Assembly election, but has stopped short of taking on the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Will he be able to make a dent?
Chirag Paswan, the actor-turned-politician and son of late union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, has created a lot of buzz in the ongoing Bihar Legislative Assembly election.
Paswan, the leader of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), has steered his outfit into direct confrontation with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United). Both parties remain a part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
However, LJP rejected BJP-JD(U)’s seat-sharing offer and instead decided to field its candidates against those of the JD(U), not the BJP (in most cases).
The JD(U)-BJP alliance is aiming to retain power in the state. The ruling coalition is being challenged by the ‘Grand Alliance’, or the ‘Mahagathbandhan’, comprising Tejashwi Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress and other smaller parties.
The NDA (including the BJP) have time and again reiterated that the election is being fought under the leadership of Nitish Kumar. In fact, in an interview to Network18, Union Home Minister and BJP leader Amit Shah said that Nitish Kumar will be the chief minister even if BJP wins more seats -- if the grouping wins the polls. However, the LJP has informally portrayed Chirag Paswan as their chief ministerial candidate.
In the last assembly elections in 2015, the JD(U) won 71 seats but that was as part of the ‘Grand Alliance’ with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress. The BJP won 53 and the LJP only two of the 42 seats it contested on, securing a vote share of 4.8 percent. The two parties had to sit in opposition until Nitish Kumar broke away from the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ to return to the BJP fold.
Chirag’s constant attacks on Nitish
Chirag Paswan, a Member of Parliament (MP) from the Jamui Lok Sabha constituency, has constantly attacked Nitish Kumar throughout the campaign this time.
On October 26, with the campaign at its fever pitch, Paswan alleged corruption in Kumar’s flagship 'Saat Nishchay (seven resolves)’ scheme and he will get it probed. Paswan further said that Kumar would be jailed if found guilty.
The LJP chief also questioned Kumar over the implementation of prohibition laws in the state and accused the chief minister of gaining from smuggling of liquor into the state. "Why not, if found guilty. Just because he is chief minister he won’t go to jail? Corruption is taking place right under his nose,” Chirag told PTI-Bhasha in a telephonic conversation, when asked if he indeed intends to send Kumar to jail on charge of corruption.
At a poll rally, Paswan alleged that Kumar had "lied" to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he has been able to build drainage and streets and provide piped water to everybody in the state. "The chief minister says there is no corruption in Bihar, whereas the corruption in Saat Nishchay is the biggest in the history of Bihar," Paswan alleged.
No attacks on the prime minister
Despite his tirades against Kumar, Paswan has stopped short of criticising the BJP or the prime minister.
In fact, Paswan has continued to praise the prime minister. “I don't need to use PM Modi's photos for campaigning. He lives in my heart, I am his Hanuman. If needed, I'll tear open my chest and show it,” Paswan was seen saying in a video on October 16.
Whom will it hurt?
This has prompted political pundits to suggest that Paswan is acting as an alternative for voters who don’t wish to vote for the JD(U) due to the anti-incumbency feeling, but don’t see RJD as an alternative either. This could help LJP cut into JD(U)’s votes.
According to a recent survey by CVoter, 61 percent respondents believe LJP and BJP have a secret pact. In response to another question, 57.7 percent respondents said that LJP had managed to created confusion among voters.
Some also suggest that Paswan is attempting to become a ‘king maker’ in an event that the ruling alliance or the opposition ‘Mahagathbandhan’ fall short of the majority mark.
The BJP has said it has no relations with the LJP in the election and has accused Paswan of trying to create confusion among voters. “Chirag Paswan has chosen a separate path in Bihar, he is trying to mislead people by taking names of senior BJP leaders. We don’t have any B or C team. NDA will get a three-fourth majority. Chirag’s party will be left as a vote-cutter party,” Union Minister Prakash Javadekar was quoted by news agency ANI.
BJP National President also slammed Paswan, without naming him. "Some people indulge in conspiracies during elections. They want to make a dent in the NDA. On one hand, they criticise Chief Minister Nitish Kumar but on the other they praise Prime Minister Narendra Modi," Nadda said at a poll rally.
Paswan downplayed BJP's recent attacks on him, claiming that the saffron party was only following the "coalition dharma" as Kumar’s ally. Paswan has rejected charges that they are BJP's 'B team' and has also ruled out a post-poll alliance with the RJD.
Yet, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, who is running the campaign in absence of party patriarch Lalu Prasad Yadav, has backed Paswan. "What Nitish Kumar ji did with Chirag Paswan was not good. Chirag Paswan needs his father at this time more than ever before but Ram Vilas Paswan is not among us and we are sad about it. The way Nitish Kumar behaved...did injustice to Chirag Paswan," Tejashwi told reporters.
Most opinion polls conducted before the first phase of voting do not show LJP making any significant damage to either the NDA or the Mahagathbandhan.Bihar Election 2020: Follow Moneycontrol’s full coverage here