Ram Vilas Paswan’s was the first politician of some stature to exit from National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 2002 over the Gujarat riots. His exit precipitated a chain of events that eventually led to Narendra Modi being rendered politically untouchable. But in politics there are no permanent friend and foe. The recent development in Bihar politics, alliance announced between BJP and LJP, has dramatically altered the game of electoral landscape in Bihar. Collapse of the BJP-JD alliance and Modi wave sweeping the Hindi heartland have too dramatically reconfigured the electoral situation. For 2014 elections, BJP is trying hard to sweep Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabah seats. Paswan’s big announcement to form an alliance with a party whose prime ministerial candidate has been slapped with many allegations ranging from “Merchant of Death” to being anti-Muslim is a pivotal change in the political landscape in run up to the election.
Paswan tilted towards BJP after his alliance talks with RJD and Congress failed and left him with the grim prospect of marginalization from mainstream politics. He also seems to be driven by the desire to ensure a firm political ground for his son Chirag Paswan. The decision may not have completely unnerved his political opponents in Bihar given the greatly diminished strength of his Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) but it surely has given the Modi a fascinating victory. It has reinvigorated a moribund NDA and refurbished its image in a more acceptable mould. The game of perception which is deeply rooted in politics in India might unleash a new chapter where Modi will be acceptable to many allies who were against his style of politics. It will help BJP to attract more allies in case NDA gets limited to 200-220 seats.
But why Bihar is so important for Modi?
Mainly three reasons can help us to understand the big picture in Bihar politics and how it will impact national politics.
First, along with UP, Bihar is an important route to power in Delhi as both put together contribute 120 seats (80+40). Post BJP-JD (U) break-up, BJP needed someone to capture the significant Dalit and Muslim vote bank. Due to possibility of JD (U) getting thumbs up from Muslims; BJP could have been a lone warrior despite the Modi wave and couldn’t have swept Lok Sabah elections. BJP-JD (U) coalition won 32 Lok Sabah seats in Bihar in 2009 by combining upper-caste votes, which are 12-13 percent and traditionally the BJP’s bulwark, and sections of the backward castes and the worst off among the Dalits, who together are more than a third of the state’s electorate. But since JDU is no more with BJP, caste calculation might spoil the Modi’s wave and therefore, Paswan assumes importance for BJP. Bihar has country’s third largest schedule caste population at 8.2 per cent behind UP(20.5%) and West Bengal(10.7%). In the last Lok Sabah, however Paswan couldn’t manage to get even a single seat but won 6 per cent of votes share. BJP had 14 per cents votes share in 2009 which were largely attributed to upper castes. The additional 6 percent will help BJP to take the tally close to 30 plus.
Second, the 2014 elections might see the resurgence of Lalu’s RJD carried by his mass appeal and combination of castes who have been non-BJP voter and also against JD (U). If we look into the 2010 Assembly election the JD (U) got 22 percent of the total votes cast to win 115 of the 140-odd seats it had contested. The BJP got 17 percent vote share to win 91 of the 101 seats it fought on. Together, they got a whopping 39 percent, a jackpot to command Power.
But the RJD was no behind: It got 19.5 percent votes, barely three percent behind the JD (U) and ahead of the BJP (although over a higher number of seats). Lalu’s idea of keeping Paswan and Congress in the loop could have destroyed BJP and also JD (U) who would have been left as an easy prey alone. Fact connotes this observation, by visiting 2009 LS elections; one finds that the RJD was placed second on as many as 19 Lok Sabah seats, losing six of them by less than 30,000 votes. Two others were lost by 30,000-50,000 votes. It will be a tough call for BJP in its pursuit for clean sweep but Paswan effect will definitely boost BJP’s chances. The demography suggests that in every Lok Sabah Seat Paswan have an influence on around 50,000 votes and this can provide BJP with a victory elixir.
Third, the alliance with Upendra Kushwaha’s “Rashtriya Lok Samata Party” will further cement the consolidation of backward caste votes. The last assembly election manifests that large numbers of seats went to representatives from Kushwahas community who control 5-6 per cents of vote’s shares. Both combinations can be a roller coaster ride for Modi which otherwise would have helped Nitish Kumar. Because by creating sub-categories among the backwards and the Dalit’s, Nitish Kumar had stolen Lalu Yadav’s place as the “natural leader” of all non-upper castes. The “extremely” backward castes (EBCs) excluding Yadavs account for 40 percent of all votes. And by categorizing 21 out of 22 scheduled castes as “Maha Dalits”, leaving out the dominant Dalit sub-caste of Paswan, Nitish has tried to capture significant Dalit votes as well by out-maneuvering Paswan. Nitish was hugely banking at this caste based calculation besides hoping to control state’s 17 percent Muslims vote.
Will Modi win the battle of perceptions?
It can’t be overlooked that the alliance with Paswan, who is still considered as the sole face of Schedule Castes in the state and at the same time cementing Kushwaha’s strong base may spoil Nitish and Lalu’s party and leave them both to fight over Muslim votes.
The 2014 elections would not only be an interesting political battle but also will shape the future politics of Bihar and national politics at large. 2009 LS election tells us that combination of Upper Castes; Schedule Castes and Kushwaha’s along with backward class won almost 25-27 seats in Bihar and the changing political clouds will definitely exhibit how far it helps Modi to establish himself as the Prime Minister of India. Ram Vilas Paswan had no choice left: the possibility of a hostile BJP at the helm; question of survival as a political party and legacy to his son Chirag, who didn’t minced his words when he lauded the clean chit to Modi from courts. This new alliance will give oxygen to Paswan whose party is out of power for many years now.
Paswan joining BJP is considered to be a win-win situation for both the parties. Paswan and his son get the maximum space to reverse their losing sheen and for Modi ‘Paswaan Passport’ will help him to brush off the blot of 2002 riots especially just few months before general elections. It will provide him the legitimacy to bring many parties in NDA. Politics in India is fast turning into a game of perception and by all accounts the recent incidents might be a silver lining for Modi and BJP to come into power in 2014.