India: Ram Vilas Paswan’s death could impact Bihar polls

Patna: The death of Ram Vilas Paswan, India’s Dalit icon and federal minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet, is likely to impact the ongoing state elections in Bihar where the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is seeking to retain power for the fourth time in a row. The three-phase polling in Bihar starts from October 28.

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What is interesting this time is that Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) founded by Paswan is contesting elections against the NDA in Bihar although it is a part of the Bhartitya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA at the Centre. The LJP has fielded candidates on 143 seats — mostly against the ruling Janata Dal United (JD-U) headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar, but has tactfully refrained from fielding candidates against the BJP. Bihar has a total of 243 assembly seats.

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Possibility increases

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Experts say Paswan’s demise has increased the possibility of his fellow Dusadh (Paswan) community rallying round the LJP as a mark of tribute to their leader who remained their mascot for over five decades since he first became the lawmaker in 1969. Paswan died on Thursday evening in a Delhi hospital after battling health-related problems.

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Dusadhs, a politically conscious caste, accounts for some six per cent of the total voters in Bihar and has been the balancing factor in Bihar elections. Also, this particular community has been known for voting very aggressively for the party and has remained always loyal to the party. They never ditched Paswan even in the worst circumstances. Political experts say the death of the prominent Dalit politician has now increased the possibility of his fellow caste men casting sympathy votes this time which could impact the assembly polls in the state.

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“The sympathy wave caused by the demise of Paswan will work indeed. He was very popular among the masses, was affable and I never heard he ever had any disputes with anyone. Also, his long career in politics remained totally free from corruption, and this is a big thing,” commented prominent political expert DM Diwakar, former director at Patna-based AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies.

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As per the report, Dalit voters are major factors in at least five districts of Bihar, such as Samstipur, Khagadia, Jamui Vaishali and Nalanda. Each district has an average six assembly seats which means the Paswan death is likely to leave its impact on at least 30 seats. Also, Paswan has never annoyed the Upper caste voters with his ugly remarks unlike other Indian politicians and always gave preference to them in allotting party tickets.

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Raw treatment

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But the question is that the LJP founded by Paswan is not a part of the NDA this time although it has announced not to field candidates against the BJP. It is to be seen now how far the upper castes backs the LJP but a good per cent of their votes may indeed go to the LJP.

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The LJP now headed by parliamentarian Chirag Paswan, only son of Ram Vilas Paswan, decided to take on the NDA in Bihar polls after being irked at getting raw treatment by chief minister Nitish Kumar whose party repeatedly said in public that it didn’t have any alliance with the LJP.

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Political experts say the very decision of the LJP could spoil the poll prospects of at least the JD-U. According to them, the LJP has been polling around five to seven percent votes in each election since it came into being in 2000.

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In the very first assembly elections held after its formation in February 2005, the LJP won 29 seats alone polling 12.62 per cent votes while in the next election held seven months later in October 2005 after revocation of President’s rule , the LJP polled 11.10 per cent votes. Similarly, the party polled 6.74 per cent votes in 2010 assembly polls and finally 4.83 per cent votes in the last 2015 assembly polls.

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The LJP made spectacular performances in Lok Sabha polls too. In the last 2019 LS polls, the party polled 8.02 per cent votes while in 2014 LS polls, it got 6.50 per cent votes, amply indicating its significance in Bihar politics. Apparently, that is the reason why every party has been willing to have an alliance with the party.

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According to experts, Bihar could have hung assembly if Paswan’s party was able to get good votes. And, if that happened, this could prove disastrous for Nitish Kumar while the LJP has already announced to support the BJP in government formation.

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