growing proximity: Modi, Paswan
Feb. 23: The BJP is seriously exploring the prospect of reviving an old alliance with the Lok Janshakti Party for the Lok Sabha polls to get its caste arithmetic right.
A senior BJP MP from Bihar, who did not wish to be quoted, said he had “two” meetings with the LJP chief, Ram Vilas Paswan, in Delhi. A top LJD leader seconded him, saying: “Three rounds of talks between BJP and LJP leaders have already taken place. A senior LJP leader has already met the BJP’s national president, Rajnath Singh.”
The BJP MP stressed the Paswan outreach was not a “personal initiative” but had the go-ahead of Narendra Modi as well as the BJP president. It seems Modi was particularly keen on roping in Paswan because 12 years ago, when the LJP was part of the Vajpayee-headed NDA coalition, Paswan had quit the Union cabinet over the Gujarat communal pogrom. He left on the eve of a vote on an Opposition-sponsored censure motion against Atal Bihari Vajpayee because of the then Prime Minister’s alleged failure to act against Modi, who was the Gujarat chief minister during the riots.
“Think of the signal Paswan’s possible return would send. That he came back to Modi in a forget-and-forgive spirit (for 2002). In seeking out Paswan’s hand, electoral math is not our principal consideration. It’s about a larger message it will send around the country,” the BJP’s interlocutor claimed.
BJP leaders from Bihar Shahnawaz Hussain and Rajiv Pratap Rudy are said to be at the forefront, trying to script Paswan’s return to the NDA.
In the run-up to Lok Sabha polls, Paswan started off by announcing an alliance with Lalu’s RJD. After the RJD leaders indicated that his seat share would be reduced, he left the ball in the Congress’ court. There were strong rumours that he could join hands with the JD(U). Last month, Paswan confirmed that the Congress-RJD-LJP alliance was on.
“However, there has been a lack of clarity, both by the RJD and the Congress leaders. We met Sonia Gandhi twice and also Digvijay Singh, C.P. Joshi and others. We have been in contact with all prominent RJD leaders. But they lacked clarity and were not willing to give us more than four seats when we were demanding 10. A regional party like ours cannot afford last-minute arrangements. So, there was a go-ahead for talks with the BJP,” said the senior LJP leader, alleging that both the Congress and RJD were treating Paswan like a ball they hurled at each other’s courts.
The LJP leaders are aware of the fallout of the party’s possible U-turn after taking a hard line against Narendra Modi. “But look, the issue in this election is not secularism. The Supreme Court has given Modi a clean chit. Besides, there was tremendous pressure from the LJP leaders and workers to forge an alliance, not with the Congress, RJD or the JD(U), but with the BJP,” the LJP leader said.
Bihar BJP leaders were tight-lipped on the possibility of an alliance with the LJP. “We have no knowledge about any talks with the LJP. But Paswanji will have to decide if he wants to come back with us,” said former deputy chief minister and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, criticising the UPA government for using the CBI to terrorise Paswan to retain him in the UPA.
“The CBI case related to appointments made in the Bokaro Steel Plant when Paswanji was Union steel minister was opened just before the Lok Sabha polls,” he said.
Though Modi expressed ignorance over the BJP-LJP talks, another senior BJP leader, not wanting to be quoted, confirmed the development.
BJP sources said Paswan was asking for 12 of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats — a demand that has angered the party’s ticket aspirants, hoping to ride on the back of the “Modi wave”. Paswan’s wish list of 12 was “too big” for the BJP to yield and the party hoped he would eventually settle for less.
The BJP has already given three seats to Rashtriya Lok Samata Party of former JD(U) MP, Upendra Kushwaha. He launched party — the first ally of the BJP in the state before the ensuing Lok Sabha polls — after parting ways with Nitish Kumar.
The BJP’s reading was despite the setbacks the LJP suffered in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls (Paswan was beaten in his own borough) and the 2010 Assembly polls, he continued to command the votes of the Dalit Paswans, who are said to account for around 70,000 votes or even more in most of the constituencies. “It’s a hundred per cent transferrable vote like Mayawati’s,” a Bihar BJP source said.
BJP sources admitted they were not “carried away” by the pre-poll surveys that projected the BJP as being on a roll in the heartland. “Doubtless Modi is popular. Eventually caste arithmetic and social engineering have to be factored in. That’s why we cannot wish away alliances,” a source conceded.
Sources said Modi’s strategy was to consolidate the backward caste and Dalit votes that are reportedly gravitating towards the BJP in the heartland after the RSS relentlessly propagated the message that a vote for Modi amounted to a vote for India’s first backward caste Prime Minister.
Some RJD leaders appeared resigned to the fact that the LJP was going away from the alliance. “We had offered the LJP five seats. But in a democracy anyone is free to go anywhere,” said RJD leader Ram Kripal Yadav.
Former Union minister and senior RJD MP Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, however, ruled out the break-up between the RJD and the LJP. While attending a function of Ravidas Chetna Manch, Singh said Paswan would never go to the BJP. He claimed that Paswan had adopted pressure tactics to increase his seat share. He also said none of RJD MLAs, including senior leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui, would join any other party.