How will the LJP factor play out in the Bihar elections?


Ram Vilas Paswan, a veteran politician and the founder of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) passed away last week. His son and two-time Lok Sabha MP Chirag Paswan now has the task of facing an election immediately after this personal and political loss. To be sure, Chirag’s moves had turned the upcoming Bihar assembly election into a bizarre spectacle even before his father’s death. While opting out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the state level, citing its opposition to chief minister Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal (United), or JD(U),the LJP  continues to be a part of the coalition government at the Centre. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have attempted to scotch speculations of a BJP-LJP government easing out the JD(U) post-polls. BJP leaders who have joined the LJP on the inducement of being fielded in the elections have also been warned of disciplinary action. So, what explains the drastic and potentially risky tactic of the LJP in the state election?

LJP has been facing growing marginalisation in Bihar politics

The LJP had a shot at the chief minister’s post in Bihar in the first assembly election it contested in February 2005. No alliance – the BJP and JD (U) were part of the NDA and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress were part of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) – was able to win a majority in the election, which marked the beginning of a decline in the RJD’s political fortunes in Bihar. Nitish Kumar offered the chief minister’s post to Ram Vilas Paswan whose party had 29 members in the new assembly. Paswan however refused the offer, demanding that a Muslim be made the chief minister of the state. There was no agreement.

When the next elections were held in Bihar in October 2005 , the NDA won a clear majority. The LJP’s tally fell to 10 from 29. The fall would continue. The LJP won three assembly seats in 2010 and only two in the 2015 assembly elections. The party’s 2010 and 2015 alliances, the former with RJD and the latter with the BJP, also saw the LJP becoming a marginal force, contesting fewer seats. With both the BJP and JD (U) being a part of the NDA this time, the LJP would have got a smaller number of seats to contest this time too.

 

Does LJP really command the support of Dalits in the state?

LJP’s founder Ram Vilas Paswan was among the most prominent Dalit leaders in the country and perhaps the most important in Bihar. Paswan’s individual stature notwithstanding, there is little evidence of widespread Dalit support for the party he founded. The number of Scheduled Caste (SC) reserved assembly seats won by the LJP has been coming down. It won four in February 2005, two in October 2005 and none in the 2010 and 2015 elections. Even in terms of vote share in contested SC reserved seats, the LJP fares worse than the three major parties – BJP, JD (U) and RJD– in the state. SC reserved seats are a useful metric of a party’s support among Dalits because they have a greater share of the Dalit population. Anecdotal evidence supports this theory. Among the six members the LJP has in the Lok Sabha, three won from SC reserved seats, but they are from Paswan’s extended family. At least two prominent BJP leaders in Bihar have joined the LJP in the last couple of days, both of them non-Dalits.

 

Does the LJP enjoy pockets of dominance in Bihar?

There are only 11 assembly segments which the LJP has contested in every election since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. A comparison before this period is not possible because the 2008 delimitation changed constituency boundaries. While its Lok Sabha performance, when a part of the NDA, is better, the party did not win any of these segments in the 2009 Lok Sabha or the 2010 and 2015 assembly elections. This suggests that the party does not really have pockets of dominance in the state.

 

Given these facts, it is clear that the LJP has taken a big risk in deciding to contest outside the NDA in the forthcoming elections. Whether this gamble yields results will only be known after the results are declared on November 10. If it does not, things could really get difficult for the party and Chirag Paswan.



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