Hajipur (Bihar): Unlike until two days ago, Rambali Prasad and Hariom Paswan have decided to support Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) instead of Janata Dal (United) or JD-U, an ally of BJP, in Bihar Assembly elections.This change of mind has come in the wake of the death of LJP founder and Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan. This phenomenon of ‘sympathy vote’ could pose a big challenge for “Sushasan Babu” Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD-U in the imminent polls.
However, Harendar Ram, resident of Ghaushpur, a landless Dalit labourer, says he is disappointed with the BJP and he will not support LJP therefore. He is angry with the saffron party’s anti-poor and anti-Dalit policies, especially in the aftermath of the Hathras rape case.
Both Rambali and Hariom, who live in Hajipur, district headquarters of Vaishali, said they were sad, like most others here, over the sudden demise of popular leader Paswan. “We have been supporting Nitish ji’s JD-U so far, but I felt very sad because of Paswan ji’s death. I have decided to vote for LJP,” Prasad, a roadside vendor told NewsClick. Prasad is not aware of how the equations between the BJP, LJP and JD-U will play out and who could really gain from his vote for LJP.
His view was echoed by Hariom, a rickshaw-puller and a resident of Karanpur village. “We have always supported Ram Vilas Paswan in Lok Sabha polls and JD-U in the Assembly polls, but this time, his death will compel us to support his party in the coming elections,” he said.
These sentiments are a legitimate reason for the JD-U’s worry. Its leaders are reluctant to say it on the record, but privately admit that sympathy for Paswan will damage their party. LJP president Chirag Paswan, son of Ram Vilas Paswan, had earlier last week refused to contest the Bihar Assembly elections under the leadership of Nitish Kumar, who is also the chief ministerial candidate of the NDA. The LJP has already fielded candidates against the JD-U for the first of the three phases of polls, but not against the BJP. Chirag Paswan has made it clear repeatedly that his party will remain with the NDA and had no problems with the BJP, even going as far as to say that it wanted a BJP-led government in Bihar. Chirag has stressed that all LJP’s candidates, who win the polls, will support the BJP.
Sataynarayan Madan, a political observer, said BJP has been using Chirag to “cut” Nitish Kumar's votes. “There is a strong possibility of sympathy votes for LJP in the polls due to the death of Paswan. The party will use it. By ensuring JD-U’s defeat in at least 15 to 20 seats, if not more, the BJP wants to emerge as the single largest party and push its candidate for the top job.” JD-U’s defeat in some seats is likely also because of the Grand Alliance. The triangular contest may turn out to be a real gain for the BJP.
Madan said that it will not be a surprise if BJP succeeds in its strategy to become a big brother in a post-polls scenario by winning more seats than JD-U, which has been in the role since 2005 by contesting more seats and winning more seats.
As per the NDA seat-sharing formula announced on Tuesday, JD-U will contest from 122 of 243 seats and the BJP from 121 seats of the 243-strong Bihar Legislative Assembly. The polls are to be held on October 28, November 3 and November 7. JD-U will be allotting seven seats from its own quota to its ally Hindustani Awam Morcha of former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi. Similarly, BJP has shared 11 seats with its new ally Vikasheel Insaan Party (VIP). This is the first time that JD-U and BJP are contesting almost 50% seats each in Bihar Assembly polls, which is being seen by many as decreasing bargaining power of Nitish Kumar.
Although BJP top leaders have repeatedly assured Nitish Kumar that he will be the next CM if NDA returns to power, the word on the street is that the BJP may betray him like he “betrayed” the Grand Alliance.
Hajipur, at about 30 km from Patna, has been considered Paswan's stronghold for at least the past three decades. He won from Hajipur in 1977 with a margin of 4.24 lakh votes--a feat that established a Guinness World Record. Paswan worked for development of Hajipur and brought the zonal headquarters of East Central Railway along with the NIPER, the CIPET, among others. It is a different matter that private investments still elude the place.
“Paswan has contributed to the development of Hajipur; we cannot deny it. If his son will urge us to support LJP, we will do it to pay a tribute to his memory,” said Kamlesh Singh, a resident of Daulatpur village and a contractual teacher in a government-run school.
Similarly, Bhola Kumar, a roadside fruit seller near busy Paswan Chowk here said that Paswan’s death has shocked people in Hajipur. “He used to say that Hajipur was like his mother which he continued to serve till his last breath. People have a soft corner for him and his death will certainly create sympathy for his party in polls,” he said.
Hundreds of people including supporters from Hajipur on Saturday went to Patna to pay respect to their leader before his cremation with the state honour. A group of emotional supporters had demanded that Paswan’s body be brought to Hajipur as a mark of respect. These can be perceived as signs of emerging sympathy for his party.
It should also be noted here that Dalits play an important role in the state’s politics. According to the 2011 Census, Dalits constitute nearly 16% of Bihar's population of 104 million people. It identified 21 of the 22 dalit sub-castes as ‘mahadalits’. They include musahar, bhuiyan, dom, chamar, dhobi and nat. The Paswan caste was left out of the mahadalit category at first, but was included later.
Madan said Dalit voters matter in the state in at least half a dozen districts where their votes can directly impact the result. These districts are Nalanda, Jamui, Samastipur, Vaishali and Khagaria. “Assembly seats in these districts, including Nalanda, the home district of Nitish Kumar, are likely to see an impact of sympathy towards LJP and resultant trouble for JD-U.”
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Jamui, a reserved parliamentary constituency is represented by Chirag, and Hajipur, another reserved parliamentary constituency is represented by Chirag’s younger uncle Pasupati Kumar Paras. Ram Vilas Paswan had not contested the last Lok Sabha polls owing to his health issues. Chirag’s cousin Prince Raj, son of Ramchander Paswan, represents the reserved Samastipur parliamentary constituency, while Khagaria parliamentary constituency is represented by Choudhary Mehboob Ali Kaiser of LJP. Khagaria is the home district of Paswan.
Known as a young and aggressive leader, Chirag Paswan seems to have employed another strategy to defeat the JD-U. He has fielded more than half a dozen BJP leaders including a sitting MLA and former MLAs. They were denied tickets by the party as their seats went to JD-U under the seat-sharing deal. Chirag has handed over party symbols to Rajendar Singh, a known RSS man and BJP state vice president and former BJP MLAs Usha Vidhayarti and Rameshwar Chourasia to contest Assembly polls against JD-U.
A sitting BJP MLA from Jhajha seat, Ravindar Yadav, has also joined the LJP and will contest polls against JD-U candidate Damodar Rout. Besides,a senior JD-U leader and former minister Bhagwan singh Kushwaha will also contest as an LJP candidate.
According to LJP spokesperson Ashraf Ansari, some more BJP leaders will join LJP to contest polls against JD-U in all three phases.
The party claims it has an ideological battle with the JD-U, but not with the BJP, and is keen on forming a BJP-LJP government in the state. The LJP is likely to contest 122 seats, primarily against the JD-U; it will not field candidates against the BJP and in return, the BJP will also desist from contesting against it in 20 to 25 seats.
BJP top leaders have reportedly assured Nitish Kumar that LJP will not be allowed to use pictures of PM Modi in its campaign; however, the LJP leaders are adamant on doing so. What had also raised eyebrows was that BJP had reportedly rejected Nitish Kumar’s demand to oust LJP from NDA and sack Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan earlier.
On the other hand, however, what cannot be overlooked is the growing rage for the BJP among the Dalit population. Given the fact that LJP is an ally of the BJP, it is to be seen whether sympathy of the voters actually translates into electoral win. “I want to vote to oust the BJP-JD-U government in Bihar. More than others, poor Dalits have been affected by rampant joblessness, price rise, failures in fulfilling promises and liquor ban,” Ram said.
“We are not going to support LJP, BJP or JD-U; we want to end their rule,” said Maheshwar Rai, a marginal farmer of Meenapur village.
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