His friends and detractors alike call Ram Vilas Paswan the ‘mausam vaigyanik’, or the best forecaster of India’s political weather. His colleagues in the political theatre keep a keen eye on and follow Paswan’s moves, particularly in the run-up to Lok Sabha elections. For many, the way Paswan turns is the surest predictor of whether an incumbent government would return to power.
Unfortunately for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Paswan is currently uncomfortable with his alliance with the ruling party. He is not attempting to conceal this discomfort, either. Neither is his son, 35-year-old Chirag, who by his own admission has been in thrall of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Months before the Lok Sabha polls in 2014, Paswan had allied with the BJP in Bihar. Later, Paswan had credited Chirag with reading the mood of the youth correctly and insisting that their party, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), ally with the BJP.
That decision helped Ram Vilas Paswan get a senior ministerial berth after his party won six of the seven seats it contested in Bihar. Chirag also debuted as a Lok Sabha member. Now, however, with the 2019 general elections just months away, the Paswans need to decide in the next few weeks whether they would continue with the BJP and the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar or ally with young Tejashwi Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). They could even decide to contest as part of a putative 'third front'.
On Tuesday, Chirag Paswan issued a warning to the BJP on twitter. Earlier in the day, he had told the media that his party was keeping the faith with the BJP. He said BJP still had respectable vote shares in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the two states it recently lost in the Assembly polls, along with Chhattisgarh.
टी॰डी॰पी॰ व रालोसपा के एन॰डी॰ए॰ गठबंधन से जाने के बाद एन॰डी॰ए॰ गठबंधन नाज़ुक मोड़ से गुज़र रहा है।ऐसे समय में भारतीय जनता पार्टी गठबंधन में फ़िलहाल बचे हुए साथीयों की चिंताओं को समय रहते सम्मान पूर्वक तरीक़े से दूर करें।— Chirag Paswan (@ichiragpaswan) December 18, 2018
गठबंधन की सीटों को लेकर कई बार भारतीय जनता पार्टी के नेताओ से मुलाक़ात हुई परंतु अभी तक कुछ ठोस बात आगे नहीं बढ़ पायी है।इस विषय पर समय रहते बात नहीं बनी तो इससे नुक़सान भी हो सकता है।— Chirag Paswan (@ichiragpaswan) December 18, 2018
However, by evening, Chirag tweeted that BJP-led NDA was at a crossroads after the Telugu Desam Party and RLSP quit the alliance. “At this juncture and with time still at hand, it is important for the BJP to respect and allay the concerns of the remaining allies,” Chirag said.
He followed it up with another tweet that criticised the BJP leadership and issued a warning that any further delay in seat-sharing talks could cost the alliance dearly. Chirag said his party had held several meetings with BJP leaders on seat-sharing talks. “However, nothing concrete emerged. If this is not resolved soon, it could damage (the electoral prospects of the alliance),” Chirag tweeted.
A couple of days ago, Chirag had said constructing a Ram temple could be the BJP’s agenda, but it was not the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s). He had said the BJP should continue to keep ‘development’ as its focus.
At stake for the Paswans is the leadership of the Dalit community in their state. A misstep now could make them irrelevant in the state, as well as national politics, in the near future. The RJD currently is spoilt for choice in picking its allies. There is the Congress, which is hopeful of regaining its upper-caste support base in the state. Then the RJD-led alliance has a Dalit face in Hindustan Awami Morcha leader Jitan Ram Manjhi, and RJD chief Lalu Prasad also has his own loyal following. The alliance is also negotiating with the Left parties and Rashtriya Loktantrik Samata Party (RLSP) leader Upendra Kushwaha. The RLSP had won three Lok Sabha seats in 2014 in Bihar in alliance with the BJP, but he parted ways with the BJP earlier this month.
Paswan senior has been a survivor of Indian politics. He was a minister in the V P Singh-led central government, in the Unite Front governments of 1996 to 1998, and in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government until he quit after the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002. He was also a minister in the first term of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, but lost his Lok Sabha seat in 2009. His party could not win a single seat in 2009, and the Paswans had to endure five years of political oblivion.
With sentiment among a section of dalits turning against the BJP, and the Sangh Parivar taking a more aggressive line on temple construction, the Paswans would need to look at retaining their support base among dalits and Muslims in 2019. Next few weeks would tell if Paswan repeats a 2002 or 2014.