File photo of Chirag Paswan with his late father Ram Vilas Paswan (Image credit: NDTV)

Rise in support for Chirag baffles BJP’s strategists

The move of the central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party to engineer split in the Lok Janshakti Party may, in short term, yield result for the saffron party, but in the long-term, it has the potential to damage its poll prospect. The only good thing is that election is not round the corner in Bihar.   

The groundswell of support for Chirag Paswan, against whom the rest five LJP MPs have rebelled, has come as a big surprise for the BJP which always needed a weak and spineless Dalit leader. Pashupati Kumar Paras fits the bill and he may soon be inducted into the Narendra Modi cabinet to fill the post which got vacant by the death of his elder brother, Ram Vilas Paswan.    

As Paswans or Dussadhs are considered as socially, economically and educationally the most developed of the 22 Dalit sub-castes of Bihar and are numerically spread all over the state, their assertiveness is not liked by many other backward and upper castes.

During the 15-year of Lalu Prasad-Rabri Devi rule between 1990 and 2005, the RJD chief had both good and bad relationship with Ram Vilas Paswan, though it was the former who gave the sobriquet of “Mausam Vigyanik” (Met department scientist) to the latter. This was simply because, according to Lalu, Ram Vilas has the talent to predict the mood of the people and would switch over his loyalty to the alliance which is going to come to power. It is other thing that in 2014 it was his son Chirag, who compelled Ram Vilas to cross over to the Narendra Modi-led NDA.

At the grassroots level too both Yadavs and Paswans are considered as a sort of militant castes and clashes among them are common. But unlike most other Dalits in Bihar—may be barring Ravidas—Paswans or Dussadhs are not easily cowed down by the Yadavs, who are the largest single caste group in Bihar.

Notwithstanding the everchanging relationship between Lalu and Ram Vilas there was still scope for good ties between the two leaders. This can be gauged from the fact that Chirag did not put up the LJP candidates against Lalu’s son Tejashwi Prasad Yadav in Raghopur in the last year’s Assembly poll.

But there appears to be hardly any scope for improvement of relationship between Chirag and Nitish Kumar. Even his father, Ram Vilas, died without forgiving the Bihar chief minister for singling out and discriminating his caste-men.

The origin of this strained relationship can be traced back to August 2007 when the Nitish Kumar government formed a Bihar Mahadalit Commission, which initially recommended that 18 out of 22 Dalit sub-castes be included in this category.

However, Dussadhs, Ravidas (Chamars), Pasi and Dhobi were excluded and thus not entitled to special government attention. Later the last three were also included in Mahadalit list, leaving out only Dussadhs. 

The Dussadhs community always alleged that this was done to consciously marginalise them. It needs to be mentioned that Nitish’s home turf of Nalanda has the highest concentration of Kurmi (his own caste) population in Bihar. Besides, Nalanda has huge number of Dussadhs too.

It was in February 2015 that the then chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi included Dussadhs in the Mahadalit category. Manjhi, who was CM for nine months, comes from the weakest Dalit sub-caste, called Musahar. Yet he did take this step to broad-base his own support base among the entire Scheduled Castes.

When Nitish again became the chief minister later the same month he annulled all the decisions taken by the Jitan Ram Manjhi government. Later in the same year, he contested election as Grand Alliance’s CM face.

However, Nitish took a U-turn and on July 26, 2017 returned to the NDA fold. Here, the LJP was also a partner.

Months later on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti on April 14, 2018, Dalit Sena organised a function in Patna. Ram Vilas, his son Chirag and youngest brother Ram Chandra Paswan, who was the president of Dalit Sena, attended the function. It was in this programme that Nitish announced inclusion of Dussadhs in Mahadalit list, but only when Chirag and Ram Chandra, during their speeches, raised this demand.

After this announcement, the whole concept of Mahadalit lost its relevance.

So, if Paras after the June 14 revolt against Chirag, spoke something good about the Bihar CM, it was bound to evoke sharp reaction from the rank and file of his caste. They blame the Bihar CM for deliberately keeping away Dussadhs (Paswans) from the benefits of Mahadalit Caste for eleven long years.

Now that the BJP is fishing in troubled waters of LJP to corner and isolate the much assertive Chirag, it was bound to have reactions.

Dussadhs, who are angry with Nitish, never had any problem in voting for the BJP if they were asked by the party supremo, Ram Vilas to do so. Now that the BJP too has decided to marginalise its young future hope of the community, the Dussadhs are bound to rethink and join hands with Lalu Prasad’s RJD. After all, till February 2014, both RJD and LJP were constituents of the UPA.

The BJP alone is not in a position to walk away with Dalit votes without the support of regional outfits.

Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. Views are personal.

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