Narendra Modi, sometime after taking over as PM, remarked that he takes Sharad Pawar as his Political Guru. This was an extremely loaded statement and it did create a small political storm. As it was explained later, that in the aftermath of the Bhuj earthquake in 2001, it was Sharad Pawar who helped Modi. Modi, a brand new Chief Minister then, desperately needed someone experienced to handle the bureaucracy in the time of crisis. And the way Modi as a Chief Minister, ran his administration for the next 12 years, it’s quite clear that he did learn a lot from the oldest serving politician. But what good is a Guru-Shishya (Master-Pupil) story in which the disciple does not outdo the Teacher? And even this story follows the same route.
Early this year when Amit Shah declared, that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is going to fight the Bihar election with Nitish Kumar as Chief Ministerial candidate, he was fully aware of the unique challenge NDA was facing. Actually a twin challenge. Anti-incumbency against 15-year-old Nitish Government and migrant labor crisis. Plus BJP as a party was facing another challenge. The Sharad Pawar Challenge!
Learn from the enemy!
Only a few months back, BJP was outdone by Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray, when they forged a post-poll three-way alliance with Congress and formed Government in Maharashtra. Going into Bihar elections surely this betrayal must be playing onto Modi’s mind. What must also be haunting him, is the fact that Nitish before the 2015 assembly elections had broken ties with BJP and joined hands with RJD-Congress. And then, with equal ease, he switched back to NDA within 2 years. And there was no loss of face as such. Nitish’s personal popularity was more or less intact.
So, post-elections, what if he takes another U-turn and does a Uddhav Thackeray on BJP? RJD-Congress will be more than happy to welcome him back in the fold. So how does Modi-Shah respond to this situation? By buying some Electoral Insurance! Puzzled? Let me explain.
Electoral Insurance in the form of Chirag Paswan! His party, Lok Janshkati Party (LJP) is contesting 137 seats; which is only 7 less than RJD’s 144. And it has given tickets to few prominent BJP rebels, such as Rameshwar Chourasia. With BJP and JDU contesting an almost equal number of seats it’s quite obvious that LJP will be contesting in some seats against BJP. But most of its candidates are fighting against JDU. So the obvious question is by fighting against JDU is he not hurting the NDA in Bihar? Maybe yes! But then to reiterate, in most seats, LJP candidates are pitted against JDU candidates. Now see how beautifully this works in multiple directions.
Insurance Policy with multiple benefits!
Firstly, LJP will act as a counter to resurgent RJD led by Tejaswi Yadav. Chirag Paswan, who like Tejaswi is very young and like him is from an upwardly mobile but non-upper caste household. He surely will attract some of the anti-incumbency votes, which otherwise, in absence of a BJP candidate, could have gone to RJD.
Secondly, by cutting into Nitish Kumar’s votes he will limit JDU’s seat count.
Thirdly, BJP rebels who are fighting on LJP tickets have a better chance to win with Chirag Paswan’s captive vote bank and support.
And last but not the least, by bitterly opposing Nitish, but saying that Modi is his supreme leader, Chirag Paswan has immensely bolstered Modi’s image, which is going to help BJP in the Bihar election.
LJP was founded by Chirag’s father, Ram Vilas Paswan in 2000. Since then it has been a sort of fringe player, with sporadic electoral success. But in Assembly elections held in February 2005, though with UPA at the center, in Bihar, LJP fought against Lalu Prasad’s RJD. And won it’s best ever 29 seats. No pre-poll alliance could secure a majority. And post elections, senior Paswan didn’t support any party, resulting in a hung assembly. Nitish at this juncture moved in and split LJP. 22 of LJP MLA’s defected to JDU, leaving LJP in tatters. In the assembly elections held the same year later, Nitish, with BJP by his side, secured a comfortable majority and became Chief Minister for the first time. For the last decade and a half, he has held on to that coveted chair. He also switched alliances in between to keep competition at bay.
Tribute to the dead, loving father!
As luck would have it, in 2014 Ram Vilas Paswan joined NDA and was on the same side as his bête noire, Nitish. Promptly, Nitish exited the alliance in 2015, only to come back in 2017. By the time the 2020 elections came, the voter fatigue had set it. To add to that, migrant Bihari laborers coming back on their feet because of the Corona outbreak, put enormous pressure on Government and showed the administration in poor light. This eroded Nitish’s credibility further. But intriguingly had no effect or increased Modi’s popularity. Nitish was kind of trapped in a situation, that was of his own making. If Chirag is able to win enough seats and unseat Nitish, it will be a fitting tribute to his father, who just passed away.
Now, there is always a chance, that to get out of this tricky situation, Nitish may perform another trapeze stunt and shift back to UPA.
But for that, like Maharashtra, post-poll arithmetic has to fit in; for which Nitish Kumar’s JDU had to win a certain number of seats. With the personal popularity on decline, fumbling administration, and either Chirag Paswan or Tejaswi Yadav to deal with, it looks almost impossible. In all probability, BJP will emerge as the single largest party, closely followed by RJD. Nitish, with reduced seats (compared to last elections), will be in the third spot. And LJP & Congress, fighting for the 4th spot.
This will have political and socio-cultural ramifications (A topic for a separate article). Nitish though reluctantly, will have to cede the middle ground to BJP. This will clear the ground for the rise of Hindu Cultural Nationalism in Bihar. Which in a way,till now was stopped by Nitish.
Now, to their credit, through Amit Shah, BJP has made it clear again and again that, if NDA wins, only Nitish Kumar will be the CM. Which I think ends all speculations on that. But with the reduced strength in the assembly, and ‘Big Brother’ BJP to contain with constantly, he will be merely a shadow of his earlier self.
Will end with another story from Sharad Pawar’s playbook which Modi is emulating. In 1995, in Maharashtra, before the state elections were called, Pawar had sensed that there is an anger against his Government and BJP-Sena is going to romp home. So what does he do? He makes scores of his own MLA defect to the other side. BJP-Sena wins 1995 assembly elections. Just before the next assembly elections, most of the MLA and leaders who had defected comeback either into NCP or Congress. And NCP-Congress are back in power and ruled for 15 long years.