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BJP seals deal with Paswan

New Delhi, Feb. 27: Ram Vilas Paswan today returned to the NDA family, providing a shot-in-the-arm for the BJP and also resuscitating his own political career that had once appeared to be sliding downhill.

The 67-year-old leader of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) had parted ways with the NDA in 2002 over the Gujarat riots and the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led Centre’s failure to act against Narendra Modi.

The BJP made the announcement of the alliance at a news meet here late tonight at the residence of BJP president Rajnath Singh. The party also cleared its first list of 54 candidates for the Lok Sabha polls.

Paswan and his heir-apparent and son, Chirag Paswan, were present at the news meet. Also present was the pantheon of Bihar BJP leaders, including Sushil Kumar Modi, Rameshwar Chourasia and Mangal Pandey.

Under the deal stitched today, the LJP will contest seven of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats. The party, which was in alliance with Lalu Prasad’s RJD in 2009, had drawn a blank then.

The seven seats are Jamui, Hajipur, Vaishali, Jhanjharpur, Munger, Khagaria and Samastipur. None of them belongs to the BJP. Paswan, Chirag and his brother, Ramchander Paswan, are expected to fight the Lok Sabha polls.

The last loose ends were stitched up today in a series of meetings that senior Bihar BJP leaders — Ravi Shankar Prasad, Shahnawaz Hussain and Rajiv Pratap Rudy — had with the LJP president and Chirag.

The alliance was “blessed” by Modi and executed by Hussain, who was called its “architect”. The political rationale was that the re-alliance with Paswan — he was part of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA — would “enhance” Modi’s acceptability in the larger national spectrum. A source said his “return” meant that the “communal” stigma Modi was stuck with for 10 years might get diluted and pave the way for other former NDA allies to return without “qualms”.

BJP sources also maintained that Paswan’s vote share remained around six per cent and his caste votes were as easily transferable as Mayawati’s in Uttar Pradesh.

The LJP’s vote quantum, they claimed, would make up for the loss of “two per cent or so” that accrued to the BJP from its former ally, the Janata Dal (United).

More than anything else, sources said the LJP-BJP alliance could establish the BJP’s position as the “main pole” of Bihar’s politics and scramble the Opposition space, with the JD(U), RJD and the Congress “fighting” for the secular and minority votes.

The LJP-BJP alliance will be on show at the March 3 rally of Modi at Muzaffarpur. Also present there would be Upendra Kushwaha, an OBC leader who heads the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party in Bihar.