| Ram Vilas Paswan with his wife and son Chirag and (right) LJP workers celebrate at Kargil Chowk in Patna on Friday. Pictures by Ranjeet Kumar Dey and PTI |
The great gamblers of Bihar politics just changed places. In 2002, following the Gujarat riots, Ram Vilas Paswan quit the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and earned himself the political woods. Nitish Kumar, then railways minister, clung on to his alliance and his cabinet berth, and was able, three years later, to wrest Bihar from Lalu Prasad and become NDA chief minister.
This morning, fortunes for the two Bihar bigwigs came a full circle, courtesy their altered relations with the BJP.
Paswan, having hitched his stranded wagon to the Narendra Modi star just in time, has plucked the low fruit of the Modi wave.
Nitish, having burnt his bridges with the ascendant Modi, is having to bite the dust.
Paswan is set to return to the union cabinet after a five-year hiatus (he was minister for chemicals and fertilisers in UPA 1).
And who knows, he might secure the chair Nitish once occupied in the Vajpayee government: the job of railway minister.
Nitish, on the other hand, must now seriously wonder how long he will be able to hang on to power in Bihar. From invincible — and celebrated — chief minister of Bihar last summer, he has gone to near decimation. And the prospects ahead look bleak, with the BJP and its Bihar allies — Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party of Upendra Kushwaha — surging as never before.
The third big Bihar player — Lalu Prasad — probably pushed his gamble in the right direction but, in a fractured field, it barely paid off as well as he had expected it to. He was able to clinch a poll deal with the Congress overriding the image-deficit brought on by his conviction in the fodder case, but it is now apparent, failed to catch the drift of the public mood.
As the counting progressed, celebrations began in the Paswan household. Of the seven seats the Lok Janshakti Party contested, it won in six (Nalanda was the only place where it lost). These included Hajipur, the north Bihar constituency which had elected Ram Vilas seven times previously — twice with world record margins — only to defeat him in 2009. Revenge was sweet this time — by evening Paswan was leading by over 2.1 lakh votes in Hajipur over the Congress’s Sanjeev Prasad Toni. The man who vanquished him in 2009, the 93-year-old Ram Sundar Das of the JD(U), was not even in the discourse.
Paswan is also a lucky mascot for alliances and was dubbed the “king-maker”. When he fought with the NDA in 1991, the alliance swept the elections in Bihar. In 2004, he was with the UPA, which then won 29 of the 40 seats. The charm has worked for Modi as well.
For the father, it will be the ninth term in the Lok Sabha (besides his Hajipur victories, Ram Vilas had won from the now delimited Rosera constituency in 1991).
For the son, his first. Chirag Paswan, the architect of the alliance with the BJP, won from Jamui by a handsome margin of around 90,000 votes. Even Ram Vilas’s brother, Ram Chandra Paswan, is ahead in Samastipur.
The successes today are a big leap for the party which drew a blank in 2009 when it contested in alliance with Lalu’s RJD. Paswan himself had to enter the Rajya Sabha with the help of Lalu Prasad.
In the politics of survival, of Bihar’s Big Three, only Paswan has survived.
The jibes of his political rivals — Lalu and Nitish — describing him as an opportunist and a political turncoat did not bother him during the campaigning.
The LJP chief had to face the wrath of the core voters of Lalu — the Yadavs. They pointed out that it was the second time he had “harmed” the political interests of Lalu. The first time was in the February 2005 Assembly polls when his party won 28 seats in a hung House and did not support Rabri Devi as chief minister. For the first time in 15 years, Lalu lost power in Bihar.
This time, it is the U-turn by Paswan when he decided to return to the NDA that proved to be the turning point for the BJP-led alliance in getting its caste arithmetic right in Bihar. Ram Vilas remains the undisputed leader of a section of Dalits, which constitutes around 5 per cent of the votes. “The election proves that Ram Vilas Paswan still has the power to transfer votes to other parties at will. The BJP benefited immensely from this transfer,” said LJP leader Lalan Kumar.
Ram Vilas has succeeded in doing what Lalu has failed — transfer his political legacy to his son Chirag. It was Chirag who convinced his father to switch over from the UPA to NDA as he believed that Narendra Modi was the future of the country. Party sources said Ram Vilas would make it to the Modi cabinet, while Chirag would be given charge to revive the party in Bihar. “We will remain in the NDA. This alliance is permanent,” remarked Chirag.
The future of the party looks secure. One dynasty has at least got its act together this time.