The recent rebellion and split in Lok Janshakti Party has created political turmoil in Bihar. Anish Ankur writes about the genesis of the family feud, the bitter power struggle as to who will be the inheritor of Ramvilas Paswan’s legacy, and its implications for caste driven Bihar politics.
Bihar’s political scene is witnessing a bitter power struggle for control of Bihar’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) established by former union minister and Dalit leader late Ramvilas Paswan. In a silent coup, on 12th June, five of the six LJP parliamentarians joined hands against Chirag Paswan and elected his paternal uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras as the party’s leader in the Lower House, and called it a decision taken out of compulsion. Lok Sabha Speaker, Om Birla, readily accepted Pashupati Kumar Paras as the leader of the LJP Parliamentary Party.
Hajipur MP Pashupati Kumar Paras, younger brother of late Ramvilas Paswan, was also named as the party chief by this faction of the party in Patna. In a retaliatory move, Chirag Paswan as party chief, responded by stripping the five rebel MP’s from the party’s primary membership. Supporters of Paswan and Paras even clashed at the party head office in Patna.
Chirag Paswan asked the Lok sabha Speaker to review his decision to appoint Paras as the parliamentary party leader of the LJP in the Lower House. Chirag told journalists, “I told the Speaker why he needs to review the decision. Our party’s constitution says the central parliamentary board has to clear all decisions. I am sure the Speaker was not aware of the party constitutional requirement. He can give them the status of a separate party, but Paras cannot be appointed as the party chief of LJP in the Lok Sabha.”
While Pashupati Kumar Paras’s argument was, “There is a dictatorial system in the party. Our party has a constitution where one person will hold only one post. Chirag holds three posts. He has been the chairman of the party’s parliamentary board since 2013. He was made the national president without election in 2019. Then he also became the leader of the parliamentary party. So the party decided that Chirag Paswan be freed from the post of parliamentary party leader and national president.”
Alleging that Chirag removed him from the post of Bihar unit president unconstitutionally, Pashupati Paras cited LJP’s constitution “Nobody can be the party president for life in a democratic system. The president has to be elected after a period. According to the constitution of our party, the president has to be elected every 2-3 years.”
Chirag Paswan on the other hand claimed that the majority of the executive members are with him and that the rebels violated the LJP constitution. “The EC (Election Commission) has assured us that if somebody tries to stake a claim in the name of LJP, we will be given a chance to provide evidence,” he said.
“Let EC and the party take a call on this. I was elected unanimously. The Returning officer gave me the letter for being elected as national president of the party. A draft to that effect has been submitted to the Election Commission today,” said Paras.
Earlier, Paswan had argued before the Election Commission that the meeting convened in Patna to make Pashupati Nath Paras the party president was completely unconstitutional. “Only nine members elected Paras as the president of the party,” he had said and had demanded a ban on the use of the party’s symbol and flag by the rebel faction.
After being appointed president, Pashupati Kumar Paras, on 19th June, dissolved the party’s national and state executive committee and different party cells.
On 20th June, the Chirag faction convened an executive committee meeting in Delhi in which 63 members turned up, as claimed in a press communique issued by the LJP’s general secretary Abdul Khaliq. However, during the meeting with EC officials, Chirag’s group submitted the names of 77 members to the Commission.
Seeds of discord between Uncle Paras and nephew Chirag
Chirag Paswan assumed charge of LJP after his father died weeks before the Bihar assembly election last year. But relations between Paras and Paswan soured when Paras made a statement in favour of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar against the wishes of Chirag. Chirag then called his uncle to his residence and instructed Paras to change the statement. Ramvilas Paswan’s ‘Shraadh karma’ was not even performed at that time. Paras called the media and withdrew his statement. Although he changed his statement due to Chirag’s pressure, the spark of ‘insult’ started smoldering which has now become a flame.
“After the death of Ramvilas Paswan on October 8, 2020, some of the unilateral decisions taken by the party leadership pushed the LJP to the brink that it now faces threat of extinction,” said Paras. “Chirag lacks experience so we supported Paras. Chirag was unable to catch the pulse of Bihar’s politics and made a big mistake, for which he and the entire party had to bear the brunt,” said Khagaria MP Mehboob Ali Kaiser, one of the rebel MPs.
Besides Paras, the party MPs rebelling against Chirag Paswan’s leadership include his cousin Prince Raj (LJP state president and Samastipur MP), Mehboob Ali Qaiser, Veena Devi and Chandan Singh.
Cause of dissent is opposition to Nitish Kumar in the assembly elections
Speaking about the growing dissent in the party, Hajipur MP, Pashupati Kumar Paras commented “Around 99% of the party leaders and cadres wanted to be in the [Bharatiya Janata Party-led] NDA (National Democratic Alliance) and contest Bihar assembly elections together. However, influenced by some outsiders, it was decided to contest the elections independently and everybody knows the humiliation the party suffered. It was a wrong decision and today the LJP doesn’t have even a single representative in the state assembly.” Pashupati Kumar was referring to Chirag Paswan’s decision to fight alone during the Bihar polls last year and target the Janata Dal (United) despite both the parties being together in the NDA.
Chirag Paswan had opened a front against Nitish Kumar in the assembly elections in November 2020, by fielding 143 candidates against all JD (U) candidates. Paswan had claimed that he wanted to help the BJP form government on its own strenght in the state. But LJP could win just one assembly seat. However, later, even the lone LJP MLA Rajkumar Singh joined the JD (U). LJP’s lone MLC Nutan Singh also quit the party and joined the BJP.
Many believe that Chirag’s decision to contest the Bihar assembly by putting up candidates against JD (U)’s candidates wouldn’t have been possible without the nod from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). During the assembly polls many BJP leaders became rebels and contested on LJP tickets. This hurt the JD (U). But the LJP did not get any benefit from it. Chirag’s controversial statement after the election results that we were successful in harming JDU, only proved his frustration and futility of his decision.
Although the NDA managed to secure a majority and Nitish Kumar was appointed CM for another term, the JD(U) ended up with a much smaller tally, conceding the upper hand to the BJP, which now has the lion’s share in the council of ministers in Bihar with two of them being deputy CMs.
Ever since the assembly election in which the LJP damaged JD (U)’s prospects in at least 36-40 seats, Nitish Kumar has been working silently to damage the LJP. Since then, more than 200 LJP party leaders have joined the JD(U).
JD(U) national president RCP Singh reacted with a sense of vindication to these latest developments in the LJP. He said, “It is a well-known adage that as you sow, so you reap. Chirag Paswan was heading a party which was with the NDA. Yet, he adopted a stance that damaged the alliance in the assembly polls. This led to a sense of unease within his own party.”
With the buzz growing about a reshuffle in the Union cabinet, political watchers believe that the timing of the rebellion is also aimed at thwarting Chirag’s chances to join the union government.
In the meanwhile, Paras heaped lavish praise on Nitish Kumar. “He is a vikas purush. Bihar has developed under his regime, and we will support him in this endeavour.” Paras’s praise of Nitish Kumar has triggered speculation of JD(U) backing the rebels. Before the split, Paras had met JD(U) MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh, a close aide of Nitish Kumar. Assembly deputy speaker Maheswar Hazari and MLC Sanjay Singh too met the five rebel LJP MPs last Monday.
Chirag Paswan fully understands who is engineering the split in the LJP. His antipathy towards Nitish Kumar went back to the time when Nitish Kumar created a ‘Mahadalit’ category by excluding the ‘Paswan’ caste. At that time, his father Ramvilas Paswan, viewed this move as a design to undermine the grip of LJP on the entire Dalit community. Introduction of the Mahadalit category limited the influence of Ramvilas Paswan to only his own ‘Paswan’ community. This was the beginning of discord between Nitish Kumar and Ramvilas Paswan.
Therefore while attacking Nitish Kumar, Chirag raised this point once again. He alleged “JD (U) first caused a division between Dalits and Mahadalits in Bihar and they had now split the LJP. They want to divide and rule.”
Paswan are the most powerful caste among salute
The Dalits in Bihar are about 16 percent (exactly 15.7%) of the total population. Dalits are officially called Scheduled Castes. It is a group of 22 castes in Bihar. Among the twenty-two castes that comprise Dalits, Chamars and Paswan (also called ‘Dusadh’) are 31.34 % and 30.88 % respectively. Musahars (16.9%) are in the third place.
Chamars and Paswans constitute about two thirds of the total Dalit population in Bihar. Paswan is at the top (48.62%) in terms of literacy. Dhobi and Pasi are both ahead of Chamar and Dusadh in terms of literacy rate. Literacy among Musahars is abysmally low (about 7% only).
There are four Dalit castes in Bihar with political significance – Chamar, Paswan, Pasi and Dhobi. Jagjivan Ram among the Chamars and Bhola Paswan Shastri and Ramvilas Paswan became famous political figures among the Paswans. There have been three Dalit chief minister in Bihar since independence – Bhola Paswan Shastri (Paswan), Ramsundar Das (Chamar) and Jitanram Manjhi (Mishra) – till now.
Chirag didn’t learn from his father
According to senior journalist Vinod Bandhu, “Ramvilas Paswan had always maintained a balance between the party and the family. The brothers had unwavering faith in him. ‘Ram’ always kept Laxman and Bharat together and gave them their due share from strategy to position. Pashupati Paras was the chief strategist of LJP. As a result, both the brothers worked unitedly. But Chirag could not learn anything from his father’s skills.”
The rise of Chirag
Chirag Paswan may have become an MP for the second term but before jumping into politics he tried his luck in Bollywood. But he was not successful. His only movie of any note was ‘Mile Na Mile Hum’ released in November 2011. Chirag was casted as Hero in the movie opposite the maverick actor Kangana Ranaut. The film did not get much response at the box office. After his failure in Bollywood, Chirag bid the film-world a goodbye and entered into Bihar politics. In the year 2014, he contested the Lok Sabha elections from Jamui and won.
LJP journey in Bihar
LJP was established in 2000. After its formation, the Lok Janshakti Party has never been able to repeat its performance in the elections that it achieved in its first attempt. Especially in the Bihar assembly elections, LJP has only twice contested alone and the rest of the time it fought in allaince with other parties, but the party could not expand its appeal beyond its core voters i.e. the Paswan community. LJP’s performance in elections can be seen in the following table.
LJP’s performance in Bihar Assembly elections
|Year||Seats fought||Vote percent||Seats won|
Party’s performance in Lok Sabha elections
|Year||Seats fought||Seats won|
Chirag Paswan’s politics is now at the crossroads. Following the LJP national executive meeting on 20th June, Chirag Paswan has announced to take out ‘Ashirwad Yatra’ (Blessings tour) from Hajipur on July 5 to mark the birth anniversary of his father Ramvilas Paswan. The march from Hajipur will continue for two months and covering all 38 districts will culminate at Patna with a big rally. The choice of Hajipur has a symbolic political importance for the Paswan family. Hajipur has a considerable presence of the Paswan caste. In 1977, Ramvilas Paswan won the Hajipur seat with a record margin of 4.77 lakh votes. By this ‘Ashirvaad Yatra’ Chirag will be claiming that he is the sole inheritor of his father’s legacy and leader of the Paswan community.
The fracture in LJP will impact Bihar’s politics
There are two immediate implications to this fracture in LJP. Nitish Kumar’s position will get stronger in Bihar. Nitish Kumar has been clear that the onus was on the BJP to show that it did not have a secret understanding with the LJP during the assembly polls. JD(U) also drew a red line to Chirag Paswan’s inclusion into the Union council of ministers. Now the ball is in the BJP’s ring. The split in the LJP puts BJP in a dilemma – whether to back Chirag Paswan or leave him to his own fate. But if Chirag Paswan does not get the support of the BJP at this crisis moment, then it will send a wrong signal to the BJP allies that the party uses a leader to suit their political needs but throw them out once they have served its purpose. As this tweet by Chirag Paswan shows that he expects the BJP to now help him avert this internal crisis rocking his party.
Amidst this political turmoil, what will be the BJP’s next move in Bihar, only time will tell?
( The author is a freelance journalist based in Patna)