Filial affections, fluid loyalties: Reading Paswan's tango with Modi

Chirag Paswan's ascent in LJP is symptomatic of a deeper ideological crisis that will soon also afflict other regional parties with aging patriarchs

abhishek-choudhary

Abhishek Choudhary | March 5, 2014



There are times for things such as ideology; and there are times for swift negotiations: 2014 is for latter.

Consider the timeline of Ram Vilas Paswan’s career of last fifteen years. Paswan, the 68-year-old dalit leader and supremo of Lok Janshakti Party, and one of the four bonafide alumnus of JP movement of ‘70s who have successfully managed the political cartel in Bihar for more than two decades.

2002: The union coal minister, whose contribution to the Vajpayee-led NDA government is of four Lok Sabha seats, resigns. He cites Gujarat riots as the reason.

2004: Fourteenth Lok Sabha elections: Paswan joins NDA’s rival, the UPA. With Lok Sabha seats unchanged at four, he is made minister of chemicals and fertilizers.

2005: Assembly elections in Bihar: I’ll only support a political party, Paswan declares, that will have a Muslim as the chief minister. (He discovers a look-alike of Osama Bin Laden, whose presence in the campaign, he believes, would make LJP look more Muslim-friendly.) After a hung assembly, fresh elections take place in October: Nitish Kumar becomes chief minister. Here begins Paswan’s plummet.  

2009: Fifteenth Lok Sabha elections: the partnership of BJP and JD (U) works in Bihar like magic. Number of seats Paswan’s party wins (in coalition with RJD) is exactly zero.  

2010: Assembly elections in Bihar: number of seats Paswan's party wins is three. Out of a total of 243.

2011: Son (from a second marriage to a Punjabi Brahmin) Chirag, 28, makes a Bollywood acting debut with Miley Na Miley Hum. Father blesses the son with a happy filmy career. The film, not wholly unexpectedly, bombs.

2013: Chirag is roped in to help his father’s party regain the lost ground in Bihar. (Miley Na Miley Hum, it turns out, is also Chirag’s last film.) Vacillating between Bollywood and politics, the scion settles for the familiar turf. Father Ram Vilas mocks Nitish’s secular credentials after JD (U)’s break-up with the NDA. Pichle das saal se kahaan the? he sneers. Where was Nitish for last 10 years?

2014: Chirag, who has been “chosen as the parliamentary board chairman” (and what, exactly, does this mean for a party whose representation in parliament is exactly zero?) spearheads LJP’s comeback to NDA. LJP is conceded seven Lok Sabha seats for the upcoming general elections. 

***
Around the same time Paswan resigned from NDA in 2002, his support base in Bihar—dalits and Muslims—dismayed by Lalu’s social empowerment experiments, started switched loyalties. With Nitish’s development rhetoric taking the state like a storm, the switch was near-complete. By 2013 Nitish’s popularity, coupled with neglect by the former allies Congress and RJD, left LJP with no prospects whatsoever. If not for a makeover, his career was for all purposes over. It's not unobvious that desperation has driven the socialist leader to relocate to the right-wing, market-friendly, BJP.

LJP, statistically speaking, is an insignificant entity, and has nothing to offer to any coalition other than palaver of secularism. BJP, on the other hand, has numbers and is in the need of greater legitimacy among the lower castes and, especially, Muslims.

Filial concern, seemingly unimportant, played the biggest role, though. Chirag was a model and actor, before he decided to become a politician. The transition between careers, it wouldn't be unfair to say, has been depressingly smooth. But Chirag getting to steer LJP is symptomatic of a deeper ideological and existential crisis that will soon also afflict other regional parties with aging patriarchs: Chirag is not Ram Vilas, born into the caste of rat-eaters in a feudal village. Chirag was born to a young dynamic parliamentarian and an airhostess, brought up on privileges that anyone born into a political family is endowed with. So it’s understandable when the city-bred model-turned-hero-turned-neta calls the alliance with BJP only “issue-based”, “in the interest of the nation” at large.

Often seen in what looks like a two-piece Armani, Chirag is an articulate man who, like all scions affecting to shed the burden of dynasty, sounds cocky and final with everything he says. But Chirag’s clichés of development and change are what most of upper caste, middle class, north Indian youth are swearing by:  socialism is for history books. Modi is the man of the moment.
 

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