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Modi hand in BJP’s Paswan outreach

Ram Vilas Paswan and Narendra Modi

New Delhi, Feb. 23: The BJP is seriously exploring the prospect of reviving an old alliance with the Lok Janshakti Party for the Lok Sabha poll in Bihar and hopes to clinch it “soon”.

A senior BJP MP from Bihar, who did not wish to be named, said he had “two” meetings with the LJP chief, Ram Vilas Paswan, in Delhi. The MP stressed the Paswan outreach was not a “personal initiative” but had the go-ahead of Narendra Modi and BJP chief Rajnath Singh.

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.

Paswan 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 when the violence happened. In his exit speech, Paswan emphasised the Centre could not “escape its culpability in dealing with the Gujarat situation”.

“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 the larger message it will send around the country,” the BJP’s interlocutor claimed.

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”. The BJP has already given three seats to a former Janata Dal (United) MP, Upendra Kushwaha, who launched his outfit after parting ways with Nitish Kumar.

Kushwaha is regarded an important leader of the backward Kushwaha caste, although he lost his own seat in the last Assembly polls.

The LJP is officially still partnering Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. Lalu Prasad has yet to firm up a larger alliance with the Congress. Sources said the process had “got stuck” because Paswan was asking for 10 seats.

“We are ready to give him five, not one more,” an RJD source said, adding even five was “disproportionate” to the LJP’s “ground strength”.

The BJP, too, said Paswan’s wish list of 12 was “too big” for the party to yield and hoped he would eventually settle for less.

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 60,000 to 70,000 votes or more in most of the constituencies.

“It’s a 100 per cent transferrable vote like Mayawati’s,” a Bihar BJP source claimed.

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.

An LJP leader said: “There is a Modi wave and we might benefit from it. Whatever the alliance, we have to firm up one fast because our workers are becoming restive.”