Kushwaha’s loss is Paswans’ gain

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ight posturing has helped Ramvilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) walk away with a honourable deal of seat sharing in Bihar after his counterpart, Upendra Kushwaha, of the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) failed to elicit any response from the BJP in spite of several deadlines. Kushwaha finally ended up joining the RJD-Congress’s so-called ‘mahagathbandhan’.

Paswan and son Chirag, who is now in charge of LJP affairs, had set a deadline of December 31 for finalising seat sharing and had reminded the NDA leadership of the need to show a sense of accommodation in view of smaller constituents leaving the alliance. It was persuasive, but not desperate, as was the case with Kushwaha, who had to quit the Modi government to pursue greener pastures on the other side.

Under the deal announced by BJP chief Amit Shah after hectic parleys, the BJP and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) will contest 17 seats each, while Paswan’s LJP is allocated six seats, which means the party has landed a couple of extra seats compared to what had been contemplated. In addition, Paswan gets a Rajya Sabha nomination in the BJP account. The allocation of equal number of seats to the JD(U) is a major climb-down by the BJP. The Nitish party, which won just two seats in 2014 contesting against BJP, is a big winner, but it is as an ally of the saffron party in the wake of a massive shake-up in Bihar’s political equations.

The Bihar deal helps the BJP get rid of its image as the bully in the alliance, trampling down on the rights of smaller constituents as they had virtually no voice in deciding matters. This had led to the NDA partners feeling suffocated. The departure of Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP after much drama had lent credence to the feeling that the BJP never believed in a partnership based on equality. It is unlikely that the party will drop its Big Brother attitude, but, at least, in terms of perception, it has won a few points.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley played a key role in bringing the Bihar backward class party around for an agreement. Jaitley, who is considered to enjoy a good rapport with many Bihar leaders, is learned to have prevailed upon party chief Amit Shah to make concessions in favour of the Paswans. The exit of Kushwaha made the deal easier as his party would have been entitled to a couple of seats. Kushwaha’s RLSP had won six seats in 2014, which gave the backward class leader a high sense of self-importance, although the BJP believes that the party was only riding the pro-Modi wave and Kushwaha may have contributed very little to claim credit. This explains the crux of the BJP’s problem with Kushwaha, which ultimately led to the estrangement.