The damage report for Chirag Paswan is in - and it's leaving the 38-year-old looking awfully shaky. He's been displaced as the leader of his party by a disgruntled uncle who today reportedly refused to meet him in Delhi.
Chirag Paswan is one of six Lok Sabha MPs from his party, the LJP, which was founded by his father, Ram Vilas Paswan. The other five have cast their lot with his uncle, Pashupati Kumar Paras. And have asked that he be recognized as the new leader of the party in parliament in place of Chirag Paswan. In a delicious sign of the online reflecting the offline crisis, the LJP's website was down today, with a message declaring "an internal error".
To hand-deliver a new proposal, Chirag Paswan drove today to his uncle's house in Delhi. A warm welcome was not on offer. He was kept waiting for just under two hours, and then told Pashupati Paras was not available. Chirag Paswan had hoped to sell this deal: that his mother, Reena Paswan, be made party president, and decide on next steps.
It's a colossal reining in of Chirag Paswan by family members and party leaders who he allegedly marginalized as he tried to establish himself as a savvy seal-maker in the complex and often treacherous territory of Bihar politics. Late last year, when Bihar voted, he announced that though his allegiance to Prime Minister Narendra Modi was complete, he could not support Nitish Kumar's party, the JD(U). Chirag Paswan said he was putting up candidates against those of Nitish Kumar all over the state. For the PM and his party, the BJP, this meant having two allies who were operating at cross-purposes.
Or did it? Chirag Paswan's stand helped the BJP in two ways - it allowed the party more leverage in tough negotiations with Nitish Kumar as a partner; it also allowed BJP leaders who had not been chosen as candidates to seek shelter with Chirag Paswan and contest the election through his party. Overall, the BJP seemed to be in a sweet spot, rather than a tricky one. The fact that neither the PM nor his top aide, Amit Shah, publicly chastised Chirag Paswan in any serious form seemed to support this premise of a secret deal with Nitish Kumar as the target. Chirag Paswan exited the BJP's alliance in Bihar.
In the Bihar election, the BJP for the first time in decades emerged as the largest player. Nitish Kumar placed second, but the BJP said it would not waver from its pre-election commitment to his serving as Chief Minister of the alliance. Nevertheless, it was clear Nitish Kumar would have a new boss now - and on a variety of controversies, he seemed to abandon his earlier stated stand in support of the BJP's. Chirag Paswan won only one seat - and if his real role was to serve as a BJP proxy and cut the votes of Nitish Kumar, he was offered no reward for it by his ally, defying speculation that he would be made a cabinet minister for his contribution.
Pashupati Paras has today been effusive in his praise for Nitish Kumar, declaring him a good leader and able administrator. After its Bihar misadventure, the LJP is reportedly refinding its spot in the BJP's national alliance at a time when there's talk of a cabinet reshuffle. The calculation is that Pashupati Paras could get a spot in the cabinet. Suddenly, the man whose career was vastly over-shadowed by that of his older brother's stands to make big gains.
In 2019, when Ram Vilas Paswan was unwell, he allocated his constituency of Hajipur to Pashupati Paras. Even then, supporters say, Ram Vilas saw Pashupati Paras as more pragmatic and patient than what his son allowed for. Pashupati Paras, supporters say, disapproved of Chirag Paswn's often arrogant behaviour with bureaucrats in his constituency, where his run-ins with officers were frequent. The hostility between them peaked when, in October last year on a local channel, Pashupati Paras complimented Nitish Kumar on development projects. Chirag Paswan ordered his uncle to meet him at home and warned that his "suspension letter could be typed up immediately." The older man reportedly responded, "From today, your uncle is dead to you."
After Pashupati Paras was sacked as Bihar president of the LJP in October, 2019 Prince Raj, who is his nephew and Chirag Paswan's cousin, was given the post. This after Prince Raj's mother, whose sister is married to Pashupati Paras, apparently complained that Chirag Paswan was treating them literally like poor cousins.
It isn't just Pashupati Paras who comes out way ahead today. Or Nitish Kumar, who has got his revenge on Chirag Paswan who attacked him at every rally in the Bihar election. As ever, the BJP has managed a major advantage - its leaders say that by shrinking the status of Chirag Paswan, they have progressed in their mission to eventually have direct appeal with Bihar's 6% Paswan population, eliminating the need, in the longer term, for an ally to let them accrue this vote.
(Manish Kumar is Executive Editor at NDTV)
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