NEWS BIHAR POLLS POLITICS
K S Shankar/IHN-NN
NEW DELHI: The demise of Lok Janshakti Party founder Ram Vilas Paswan has cast a shadow over the Bihar Assembly elections, that’s just 20 days away and for which campaigning is already at a feverish pitch in the state. This is the first assembly election after the coronavirus pandemic hit India since March last, and will have a bearing on assembly polls in some other states in the coming months.
The senior leader’s death a day ago, abruptly ending his innings as a Union minister, came as a shock to his followers, mostly from his Dalit backdrop. His son, actor-turned politico Chirag Paswan, has been entrusted with the leadership of the current round of campaign, but his popularity is not high among the LDP support bases. This would also be a poll season marked by the absence of veteran Lalu Prasad Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), who is in jail over a corruption verdict.
Bihar goes to polls in three phases from October 28 to November 7 for a 243-member assembly.
Special arrangements are being made to ensure adherence to the social distancing norm, so important in these times of Covid-19 spread. In the first phase on October 28, elections will be held for 71 seats; in the second on November 3, for 94 constituencies; and in the third and final phase on November 7 for 78 constituencies. The counting and declaration of results will take place on November 10.
Significance is attached to this election as all eyes are on chief minister Nitish Kumar, who is running the state in this capacity for most part of the past 15 years, making him one of the longest-serving chief ministers. There are those who say there will be an anti-incumbency wave this time. Nitish ran the government with special emphasis on infra-development, social sector progress through building of roads and reaching water to interior villages etc. This kept him in good stead so far, enabling him neutralize the strength of his principal rival, Lalu Prasad. In caste-prominent Bihar, Nitish is a Kurmi and BC, which has a small population strength; set against Lalu having the backing of sizeable Yadavs, the most prominent BC population in the state as also Uttar Pradesh.
More importantly, the reputation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a vote-fetcher for the BJP will be put to test yet again. While the PM’s campaign helped the BJP sweep the Hindi belt in the Lok Sabha polls, a different trend was evident thereafter, in the past over 15 months. Assembly polls in Maharashtra saw the BJP losing ground, while it somehow managed to retain power in Haryana. The Delhi assembly polls too were a washout for the BJP right under the nose of the PM. In Jharkhand, which was earlier part of Bihar, the JMM-Congress alliance won power in December last. Will the PM’s charisma work for the BJP in Bihar is one question before the nation now.
Local issues play a dominant role in state assembly polls, though the BJP has claims on major decisions it took like ending the special status for Jammu and Kashmir state, the ending of the Ram Janam Bhumi dispute via court decision, the start of the work of the Ram Temple etc. The Citizenship Amendment Act, to drive out illegal Bangladeshis from India, antagonized Muslims more in their outlook to the BJP. Muslims are a sizeable force in Bihar, but are mostly allied with the RJD of Lalu, the Congress etc.
Despite the BJP having run a Congres-Mukth Bharat campaign since 2014, several states are out of bounds for the saffron ideologists. In fact, there are anti-BJP governments in 12 states now, while the nation comprises a total of 28 states and eight Union Territoris. The NDA is in power in 16 states that accounts for 42 per cent of the country’s population.
The Congress is in power in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Puducherry either on its own or as part of an alliance. The party is part of thegovernment in Jharkhand in association with the JMM. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena snapped its 30-year ties with the BJP and NDA after the assembly elections and allied with the Congress and the NCP to grab the CM post. BJP was left in the lurch there.
PASWAN AS FOLK HERO
Ram Vilas Paswan has been among the towering presences in Bihar politics since many decades, after his entry in politics as a young socialist leader in 1969 and won a state assembly seat. His absence will leave a vacuum in state politics, and it remains to be seen whether his son is as capable as the father to lead the party there. LJP has decided this time to face the polls all alone, as it did not want to be seen in the company of CM Nitish, who heads the NDA alliance in the state. The LJP is backed mainly by Dusadhs of the Paswan clan as also other Dalits. Dusadhs are a politically aware Dalit sub-caste, to whom Paswan was folk hero.
Ram Vilas Paswan was the tallest Dalit leader in Bihar since 1990s. He built his political capital in Bihar in the last 30 years or the post-Mandal era on caste politics. Emerging as a strong Dalit voice, Paswan would draw huge crowds in his rallies but Chirag Paswan has not shown that kind of impact in his election rallies despite his Bollywood background as an actor.
In the 2015 Bihar Assembly election, Chirag Paswan addressed a few rallies of his own and the crowd presence used to be only in the range of 500 to 1,000. Paswan Junior has failed to build a connect with his audience. He is flamboyant, while Dalits are poor with whom Ram Vilas Paswan easily established a direct connect.
Some observers have commented that his RJD rival Tejashwi Yadav, another second-generation politician from the Lalu Yadav stock, gets better response in his rallies.Ram Vilas Paswan’s brother and long-time aide, Pashupati Paras, who is the sitting Hajipur MP, does not seem interested in furthering Chirag Paswan’s politics. Pashupati Paras even skipped the parliamentary board meeting last Sunday when the LJP decided to go it alone in the assembly elections.
Chirag Paswan is left with cousin, Samastipur MP Prince Raj, the son of Ram Chandra Paswan, the younger brother of Ram Vilas Paswan. Ram Chandra, a many-term Lok Sabha MP, passed away last year. The LJP has been a family-controlled party. Some ‘outsiders’ in the party leadership have quit the party and the only family face Pashupati Paras looks withdrawn.
An alliance-hopper, Ram Vilas Paswan changed colours like a chameleon. On occasions he co-habited with the Congress, and on other occasions with the BJP. He was known to have no enemies in politics and sought to side with whoever was in power, and became minister. CM Nitish too sided at one time with the BJP and at another with the Congress in state politics, to survive in power.
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