LJP-JD(U) rift: A mutual friend & an inevitable divorce

Bihar polls: Understanding the rift between JD(U) and LJP

The LJP also has a fair amount of distrust since the February 2005 assembly election, when Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) tried to poach LJP legislators

Paswan Junior's main contention against Nitish's governance has remained corruption and the lack of law and order in Bihar. Credit: PTI

As the battle for the top chair in Bihar intensifies, Nitish Kumar, Chirag Paswan and Tejashwi Yadav have upped their ante against one another.

While Chirag Paswan, leader of Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), and Tejashwi Yadav, leader of Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD), fight to defend their father's legacies against the current CM Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)), the twisted alliance game just ahead of the polls has made the election a much harder one to predict than usual. 

The young Paswan, who carries the weight of shouldering late father Ram Vilas Paswan's political heritage, has drawn his sword against Nitish Kumar openly, targeting the incumbent chief minister over lawlessness in the state to its handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Chirag Paswan has gone to great lengths to mock Nitish's 'sushasan' in Bihar.

Also read — Chirag Paswan wants to get himself burnt in the 'lantern': JD (U) hits back at LJP

The relationship between erstwhile allies LJP and JD(U) soured quickly with the former pulling out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the state just weeks before the election.

The NDA in Bihar was earlier an alliance between the BJP, the JD(U) and the LJP. However, despite pulling out of this trilateral partnership, Paswan has constantly reiterated his allegiance to the BJP and PM Narendra Modi and maintained that the LJP will remain part of the NDA at the centre.

Nitish Kumar has been Bihar's chief minister since 2005, except for a brief period after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when he installed Jitan Ram Manjhi at the helm after the JD(U) was routed in the general elections. Before Kumar, Lalu-Rabri-led RJD had ruled the state for 15 years.

Kumar allied with the NDA in Bihar only in 2017, breaking away from the Mahagathbandhan (a coalition primarily between Congress, RJD, JD(U) and others).

What caused this rift between LJP and JD(U)?

Paswan Junior's main contention against Nitish's governance has remained corruption and the lack of law and order in Bihar. The JD(U) on its part, dismissed Chirag's criticisms as those coming from someone with negligible influence. 

Chirag has also revealed in several interviews the move to contest alone came on his own father's advice. 

The 37-year-old alleged that Kumar had behaved in a haughty manner when the former Union minister had called on the JD(U) chief last year with the request to accompany him to file his nomination papers for Rajya Sabha.

"Nitish Kumar recently remarked mockingly that my father could not have got elected to the Rajya Sabha without the JD(U)'s support since we had only two MLAs. He should remember that my father was promised a Rajya Sabha berth by the then BJP chief Amit Shah himself," Paswan said.

However, LJP's tactics ahead of the polls is in contrast with the geniality shown by Ram Vilas Paswan to Nitish Kumar at the time of 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Buzz was that both regional leaders may have been trying to create a pressure group within the Bihar NDA to checkmate the BJP.

One of the other reasons that have been largely accounted for prompting Chirag's move was an unfavourable seat-sharing deal with the JD(U). 

The youth leader was apparently unhappy with the inclusion of former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) into the alliance. Manjhi, like the Paswans, is a Dalit leader who has a history of targeting the LJP.

The Mahadalit leader, as Manjhi is called, is a key player for parties to widen their reach to the backward communities in the state.

According to a senior Mahagatbandhan leader, Mahadalits are numerically strong at about 16 per cent of the electorate, including six per cent Paswans, making it harder for Chirag to hold any post-poll negotiations.

Read: Bihar elections 2020: The power dynamics in NDA

Ram Vilas Paswan vs Nitish Kumar

Both Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar also shared a rocky relationship with one another, often not seeing eye to eye

Manjhi's entry into the political front with JD(U) in 2014-15 cemented Nitish's categorisation of the Mahadalit community, leaving the Paswans' share of Dalit electoral vote to chip away

The LJP also has a fair amount of distrust since the February 2005 assembly election, when Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) tried to poach LJP legislators in an attempt to form the government in a hung assembly.

While Chirag has kept up the attack on Nitish Kumar, he has also refrained from going aggressive against Tejashwi Yadav. All indications are that the BJP and the RJD will win the most seats in their alliances, thus leaving both options open for Chirag in a post-poll scenario. 

Speculations are also rife that Paswan junior's performance could determine whether Nitish Kumar will be ousted from BJP's list and perhaps help him build a bridge for the 2025 polls and possibly a comfortable spot at the Centre.

(With inputs from PTI, Anand Mishra)