Chirag Paswan, sidelined in his Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) after a coup led by his uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras, has launched a fightback that hints at his belief that he will emerge from the crisis with fewer scratches than predicted.
Despite the vertical split in the LJP and the reported contribution of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and the BJP in facilitating it, there are clear signs that Chirag Paswan still retains an advantage, according to his supporters. That is, if he is ready for a long fight. He told reporters yesterday that he was ready for a long legal battle to fight the rebels and reassert his claim over the party founded by his father.
The Paswan vote-bank, which kept Chirag's father Ram Vilas Paswan in several central cabinets for years, is still intact and firmly with Chirag Paswan, say LJP leaders backing him. The Paswans, who make up six per cent of Bihar's voters, know that Chirag Paswan is isolated in the party but when it comes to their preference, he remains the natural successor to Ram Vilas Paswan, who picked him to lead the party.
Sources say along with the Paswans, the Dalits are also a big factor in Chirag Paswan's corner.
The Dalits are seen to be upset at Pashupati Paras - Ram Vilas Paswan's younger brother -- for reportedly taking the help of Nitish Kumar, who was hardly on good terms with the Paswans for years.
Soon after the LJP coup and its details surfaced, a video of Nitish Kumar at a press conference on September 24 showing his apparent lack of awareness about Ram Vilas Paswan's condition - at a time the Union Minister was in hospital -- once again became viral. Mr Kumar did not meet with Mr Paswan's family to express his condolences either, Chirag had complained.
BJP leaders concede that apart from their worry that the crucial Paswan voters will prefer Chirag over his uncle Pashupati Paras, Paswan Junior, a failed Bollywood actor, is a better speaker and is seen as a more popular leader compared to his uncle, who preferred to be low key for years.
Also Dalits are seen to be deeply upset with Nitish Kumar's policies, among them the liquor ban. Some four lakh people were arrested over the years for violating this policy and 70 per cent are from the Dalit community who also bemoan recurring legal expenses due to the cases against them under the Excise law.
But any support will count only during elections, and polls in Bihar are a long way off. Before that, Chirag Paswan hopes to make an impact in the 2024 national election. Those close to him say he has to position himself as an adversary to both Nitish Kumar and the BJP.
BJP leaders noted Chirag Paswan's cryptic comment yesterday, interpreted as sarcasm aimed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
At his press conference, Chirag Paswan ducked questions on the role of the BJP in the revolt against him saying it was "an internal matter of his party" for which he will not target others. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla's move to swiftly recognize Pashupati Paras as the leader of five of six MPs that rebelled - the sixth is Chirag Paswan - was a dead giveaway.
He gamely tackled a question referring to a comment he famously made ahead of the Bihar polls last year calling himself the faithful Hanuman to PM Modi's Ram.
Asked if "Hanuman" will seek help from "Ram", Mr Paswan wryly said: "If Hanuman has to seek help from Ram, then what good is Hanuman and what good is Ram?"
He has dropped hints earlier too. During the Bihar campaign, when he said at every public meeting that he was with the PM and the BJP but not Nitish Kumar, he reportedly anticipated having to fight the BJP at some point.
When a journalist asked why he was wearing so much saffron, he had quipped, "Sooner or later I will have to fight it out with the BJP as it doesn't spare its own allies."