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BJP gains ally, hopes to lose riot taint

New Delhi, Feb. 27: The BJP late tonight announced its alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party that it hopes will help Narendra Modi shed the “untouchable” tag he has worn since the 2002 Gujarat riots.

BJP president Rajnath Singh made the announcement at the party headquarters in the presence of Paswan, his son and heir-apparent Chirag and his younger brother, Pashupati Kumar Paras, who heads the LJP’s Bihar wing.

Bihar’s entire BJP leadership, including former deputy chief minister Sushil Modi, state president Mangal Pandey and leader of the Opposition Nand Kishore Yadav, was present. So were the state’s most visible faces in the party in Delhi — Ravi Shankar Prasad, Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Shahnawaz Hussain.

Although Modi was in the capital, he was not present at the party headquarters as he was to leave for Karnataka.

Rajnath said Paswan would call on Modi and L.K. Advani, who was absent from the alliance process. The LJP leader will share a dais with Modi at his Muzaffarpur rally on March 3, he added. The BJP is expected to flaunt another ally in Bihar, Upendra Kushwaha, at Modi’s meeting.

“The distance between the BJP and the LJP has come to an end,” said Ramchander Paswan, another of Paswan’s brothers.

The party was in the NDA when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was at the helm.

A joint BJP-LJP statement released shortly after the announcement said: “Today it is imperative to have an India that will be liberated from the Congress. The country’s awash with a wave for change. It is important to expand and consolidate the NDA under Modi’s leadership. The LJP has, therefore, become part of the NDA.”

The LJP will contest from at least seven seats in Bihar. Paswan has agreed not to field candidates with “criminal” or controversial antecedents, sources said. The seats are Jamui, Hajipur, Vaishali, Nalanda, Munger, Khagaria and Samastipur. None is held by the BJP. Paswan, Chirag and Ramchander are expected to contest.

The alliance was “blessed” by Modi and executed by Hussain. The BJP is hoping Paswan’s return would enhance Modi’s acceptability because he was the first leader to split with the party in protest against the Centre’s failure to effectively intervene in the 2002 Gujarat riots.