New Delhi October 9, 2020, UPDATED: October 9, 2020, 01:23 PM IST
The passing away of Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan is not only a personal loss for his son Chirag Paswan but a huge political jolt as well. Chirag Paswan is the president of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) but every voter and local election influencer in Bihar knew it was the party of Ram Vilas Paswan. Chirag Paswan is still a greenhorn to most of them.
In the political-election term, the loss came at an extremely critical time for Chirag Paswan. Ram Vilas Paswan passed away exactly three weeks before the vote is cast in the first phase of the Bihar Assembly election 2020.
The immediate impact of the demise of Ram Vilas Paswan, who was unwell for some time, underwent heart surgery and possibly required another, would on campaigning for the Bihar Assembly election.
Ram Vilas Paswan was the tallest Dalit leader in Bihar since the 1990s. He built his political capital in Bihar in the last 30 years or post-Mandal era on Dalit politics.
Emerging as a strong Dalit voice, Ram Vilas Paswan would draw huge crowds in his rallies and the thousands of listeners would actually go to vote for him. He set new records of victory margins in his Hajipur Lok Sabha constituency.
Chirag Paswan has not shown that kind of impact in his election rallies despite his Bollywood background. In the 2015 Bihar Assembly election, Chirag Paswan addressed a few rallies of his own, and the crowd presence used to be in the range of 500 to 1,000 or a little.
Paswan Junior has failed to build a connection with his audience and vote bank mostly Dalit and poor that Ram Vilas Paswan established with his essentially local tone and tonality of his speech. Some observers have commented that his RJD rival Tejashwi Yadav, another second-generation politician, gets a better response in his rallies.
CHIRAG AS FACE, PARTY FACELESS
With the passing away of Ram Vilas Paswan, Chirag Paswan lacks faces in the party that are willing and familiar to people. Ram Vilas Paswan’s brother and long-time aide, Pashupati Paras, who is the sitting Hajipur MP, does not seem interested in furthering Chirag Paswan’s politics.
Pashupati Paras even skipped the parliamentary board meeting last Sunday when the LJP decided to do it alone in the Bihar Assembly election.
Chirag Paswan is left with cousin, Samastipur MP Prince Raj, the son of Ram Chandra Paswan, the younger brother of Ram Vilas Paswan. Ram Chandra was a multiple-term Lok Sabha MP and passed away last year.
The LJP has been a family-controlled party, which had a few outside faces that the public recognized. Some ‘outsiders’ have quit the party and the only family face Pashupati Paras looks withdrawn.
SEARCH FOR A WINNING FORMULA
After 2005, Ram Vilas Paswan tried to engineer a socio-electoral mix of Dalit-Muslim vote bank claiming that he would support the coalition in Bihar that would prop up a Muslim as the chief ministerial face.
This was the time when RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s MY (Muslim-Yadav) election engineering was falling apart. Ram Vilas Paswan’s posturing endeared him among Muslims.
However, the February 2005 election did not work out well for his party, which reached its highest tally of 29 in the el243-member Bihar Assembly. It was a fractured mandate in polls. Ram Vilas Paswan would say he held the key to power in Bihar.
For eight months, Ram Vilas Paswan did not use that key to unlock the corridor of power. Thereafter, the LJP lost both vote-share and seats. It won just 10 in October 2005 Bihar election, three in 2010, and two in 2015.
Ram Vilas Paswan wanted to revive the LJP for his son. He began this process by appointing him as the LJP president last November. The decision to go solo could not have been the sole idea of Chirag Paswan, in whom Ram Vilas Paswan saw a future chief minister of Bihar a dream that he could not realize in his lifetime.
SYMPATHY: WHAT MAY WORK FOR CHIRAG
Ram Vilas Paswan was known to have no enemy in politics. This is why he could easily float between one political grouping to another seamlessly. While Nitish Kumar still faces criticism for doing a political somersault on the two sides of the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Ram Vilas Paswan never had this narrative to dismiss.
His death may translate into a sympathy wave among the Dalit voters, and also see rivals toning down their attack on the LJP. Sympathy wave still works in the election was seen in the 2015 Bihar Assembly poll, when the RJD suddenly saw a surge in voting percentage. It was not entirely because of Nitish Kumar joining hands with Lalu Prasad.
Lalu Prasad had been convicted and barred from contesting the election in October 2013 a little later after he hit the ground with a Parivartan Rally in Bihar to revive the sagging fortunes of his RJD. His supporters felt he was being disproportionately hounded for corruption which in public perception is a mainstream thing for a politician.
In an open letter that Chirag Paswan wrote days before Ram Vilas Paswan died in a Delhi hospital, he said, “You have always supported my father, and he always told me never to give up but to fight for the cause. This is not my battle; it’s the battle for Bihar, for its lost glory and lost identity. I hope you will support me as you have supported my father.”
This election was supposed to be the real launchpad for Ram Vilas Paswan’s mission to make his son a serious chief ministerial contender in the 2025 Bihar election. His death mid-way makes it an uphill battle for Chirag Paswan for the simple fact that he is now without his seasoned commander.