View: Paswan’s wish to run with hare and hunt with the hounds depends on BJP’s plot for Nitish Kumar

NEW DELHI: NDA ally Ramvilas Paswan-led LJP’s threat to field candidates against chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) in the Bihar assembly election has spiced up pre-poll discourse. The move, right when the RJD-led Opposition alliance is framing the contours of their seat-sharing formula, is being closely monitored for the multiple plots involved in it.

Whether Pawan will walk his talk, the Opposition camp feels, depends largely on to what extent big brother BJP wants –– or, it has the confidence –– to try and squeeze Kumar in the electoral field when his “Sushasan babu” image is perceived to have taken some hit amid Covid-19-related woes of the state.

Many BJP local leaders and workers resent JD(U)’s supremacy over their party in the state alliance and want the order to reverse in view of “the Modi factor” and the “sentiments” behind the upper caste consolidation.

Yet, many wonder whether the Centre/BJP leadership, facing a key state poll amid Covid-19 and economic meltdown, would have the nerves to push Kumar to a breaking-point, or, it is merely using the Pawan pin-pricks to bargain for a better, if not equal, seat-sharing pact with the JD(U).

As for Paswan, being part of a ruling national alliance/union Cabinet and, still fighting elections against the coalition’s lead horse in Bihar is nothing new. He has run with the hare and hunted with the hounds twice in the recent past. While being a UPA-1 ally, along with Lalu Yadav-led RJD and member of the first Manmohan Singh’ cabinet, Paswan developed (similar to his current issues with JD(U)) differences with Lalu Yadav and fielded LJP candidates against almost all the RJD nominees in the March 2005 Bihar assembly polls in which the “Lalu Fort” crumbled.

Though the RJD chief pressured UPA to impose President’s rule to avert Nitish-BJP gaining the required numbers after the hung verdict, Paswan repeated the spoiler show against RJD in the October-November 2015 assembly poll in which Nitish-BJP stormed to power with a defining majority.

“If Paswanji is indeed unhappy with the NDA government led by Nitishji in Bihar, he should walk out of the BJP-led NDA, resign from the Union cabinet and join the Opposition to fight Nitish Kumar and the BJP in the assembly polls,” senior Congress leader Tariq Anwar said.

But, the LJP chief would be tempted to recall how he remained within UPA-1 and its cabinet till 2009 despite queering the RJD pitch.

Paswan could do so because of the shield provided by UPA leader Congress (many in the party were relieved over the end of the discomforting “jungle raj”, and thus clipping Lalu’s ambitious wings within UPA). Ironically, the same Lalu and Paswan cleverly combined against the Congress in the 2009 LS polls only to suffer the duo’s electoral ignominy with Paswan losing even his own seat (subsequently Lalu helped Paswan keep his Delhi bungalow by dolling out an RS seat). So, if NDA national leader BJP is willing to similarly protect his Cabinet perch, Paswan would be ready for a spoiler bid on the JD(U) in the Bihar pitch.

“But, why would PM Modi and the BJP leadership want to risk a rift within their Bihar alliance and electoral complications? After all, Nitish Kumar has been conveniently facilitating all the agenda of the Modi government and RSS-BJP,” asked a senior RJD leader.

Many feel that the BJP is keen to bargain an almost equal share of seats with the JD(U) (and better share for LJP as a buffer) to boost the morale of its own cadre and, more importantly, to limit Kumar’s post-poll influence and his potential to do any “Uddhav Thackeray-like act”.

The ball is now in Kumar’s court. He has to either accommodate BJP’s wish on seat-sharing as a way of warding off Pawan’s spoiler act or, stand up to the bullying by risking a rough poll or even postponement of polls in the name of Covid spike, facilitating Central rule for a while.

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