Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan has accused Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of an “anti-Dalit mindset” and of “mistreating Dalits within his own party” – a pointed reference to the 2015 tussle for power with former Chief Minister and Dalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi, which ended with the latter being forced to resign.
Speaking to NDTV on Monday, Mr Paswan – who called the fight for control of LJP a “Mahabharata” – also accused Nitish Kumar of trying to split the party by dividing the Paswan community – a subsection of Dalits that form six per cent of Bihar.
“If you see the political journey then it is clear… he has been splitting the Lok Janshakti Party since February 2005, when 27 were elected on our ticket. Subsequently, he kept on splitting our legislature party in Bihar,” Chirag Paswan told NDTV.com.
Mr Paswan referred to the creation of the Mahadalit sub-group in 2006, saying: “That shows his mindset as it was primarily to isolate Paswans and Jatav.”
“It must be kept in mind the LJP has never been a fan of Nitish Kumar’s style of politics. He has harmed the Dalits by creating a sub-group of Mahadalits for his own political gains,” he had said last year before he pulled his party from any alliance with the JDU.
“See how he treated Dalits within his own party, including the unceremonious way Jitan Ram Manjhi has thrown out of power… I will expose the true face of Nitish Kumar and inform Dalits across the country, especially in Bihar, during my roadshow, which will be across all Assembly constituencies,” Mr Paswan added.
The LJP’s seat count dropped precipitously after the 2005 polls – 10 in the repoll in October-November 2005, three in 2010 and two in 2015 (when it was part of the BJP-led NDA). In last year’s election, the LJP claimed just one seat, whose victor has since switched parties.
Bihar’s Paswan community are the core base for the LJP and the relative power of that base was highlighted last year; the LJP won just one seat but, by fielding candidates against every JDU nominee, it wound up eating in that party’s vote share and leaving it second-best against the BJP. And they continue to back Mr Paswan, a poll of LJP leaders by the BJP suggests.
The roadshow expected next month is a display of strength for Chirag Paswan, to underline his status as the political heir of the late Ram Vilas Paswan, his father and one of the tallest Dalit leaders.
The LJP, under Chirag Paswan, was the ‘x-factor’ in last year’s election; the cutting of JDU votes helped the BJP emerge as the main power in the ruling NDA, and there was constant speculation the smaller party was the BJP’s ‘plan-B’ to retain power in Bihar – something officially denied.
Mr Paswan – who last year dramatically said “…like Hanuman’s devotion for Ram, if you cut open my heart you will find only Modiji” – has now admitted, though, it is difficult to believe the coup in his party happened without a section of the top BJP leaders being aware. Undaunted, though, Mr Paswan fired a gentle reminder to the larger party.
“… should not forget we joined hands with them after PM Modi’s name was announced (the JDU-BJP broke up ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election) old allies like Nitish left them and it was Paswan voters who turned the table… six per cent Dalit votes are still firmly with us,” he said.
The squabble for control of Ram Vilas Paswan’s party, and legacy, erupted last week after five LJP MPs – including the former Union Minister’s younger brother and coup leader Pashupati Paras – asked the Lok Sabha Speaker to recognise them as a separate group.
The next day, the rebels removed Chirag Paswan as party chief in an “emergency meeting”. Mr Paswan has refused to go quietly into the night, calling himself a “sher ka beta” (son of a lion).