- Ram Vilas Paswan died just days before high stake Bihar election
- He was known as the "weather vane" of Indian politics
- JDU sources say Nitish Kumar is not too worried about Chirag Paswan
Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, one of Bihar's most prominent faces, died on Thursday, just days before a state election that holds high stakes for his son Chirag Paswan.
The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), which Ram Vilas Paswan founded in 2000, will contest separately from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the October-November Bihar election with Chirag Paswan saying while he remains loyal to the BJP, he will fight to defeat Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United (JDU).
On Wednesday, the BJP's Sushil Modi said this would never have happened if Ram Vilas Paswan, then in hospital, had been active. Nitish Kumar also spoke about his long association with Paswan senior, even pointing out that it was with his support that he was given a Rajya Sabha seat.
Ram Vilas Paswan's skills of reading the signs were legendary and earned him names like the "weather vane" of Indian politics and "political meteorologist". When he buried his anti-BJP stance and joined hands with Nitish Kumar in the 1999 national election to contest as part of the BJP-led NDA, RJD's Lalu Yadav was reduced to seven of the state's 54 seats and even lost his own Madhepura parliamentary seat.
In the next election in 2004, Paswan walked out of the NDA to be part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The Lalu Yadav-Paswan-Congress combo triumphed and Nitish Kumar, an NDA partner, lost even his Barh seat. But Ram Vilas Paswan, in 2009, couldn't retain his Hajipur parliamentary seat and was practically in the wilderness until 2014. He was the first to sense that no one could stop Narendra Modi and joined hands with the BJP. At the same time, Nitish Kumar went all out against Mr Modi, a stand he was compelled to reverse just three years later, when he dumped the RJD and Congress.
Soon after news of Ram Vilas Paswan's death emerged, there was speculation among some sections of Bihar leaders about the impact on Chirag Paswan's political strategy hereon; he has already taken a big gamble.
Bihar will vote on October 28, November 3 and 7 for a new 243-member assembly. The results will be announced on November 10.
In a letter to BJP president JP Nadda defending his decision to fight Nitish Kumar, Chirag Paswan had complained that when reporters in Patna asked the Chief Minister about his father's health, he had "feigned ignorance". JDU leaders say Nitish Kumar tried to reach out to Chirag Paswan but he refused to return his call.
Will his father's death impact Chirag Paswan's poll planning? There is a buzz that he may not be inclined to field more candidates in the second and third round of voting. While announcing 42 candidates for the first round on October 28, he avoided all the seats where the BJP will contest. Six of his candidates are disgruntled BJP members who were left out of their own party's list.
JDU sources say Nitish Kumar is not too worried about the Chirag Paswan factor. Since 2005, they point out, he never benefited from the Paswan vote-base; in fact they always voted against him. In fact, Nitish Kumar believes that Paswan votes against him are inversely proportional to Mahadalit votes in his favour.
To offset the Paswans, the Chief Minister joined hands with former rival Jitan Ram Manjhi, who has a significant "Mahadalit" vote - a group that combines all non-Paswan Dalit voters. Mr Manjhi's party has been given seven seats from the JDU's share of 122 (BJP will contest 121 seats).
A lot will also depend on how the BJP handles Chirag Paswan. In Bihar, the ruling party has picked a side - Nitish Kumar -- and has firmly relayed to Chirag Paswan that he is on his own.
At the centre, Chirag Paswan remains an ally and has reasons to expect his father's cabinet spot. Even he knows that regardless of his Bihar stance, he can't really push his luck as it will make his entry into the central government that much difficult. At this point, the BJP is unlikely to let anything jeopardise its tie-up with Nitish Kumar.