In a season of political deal-making, it would seem the party is not only keener to win new friends but is ahead of rival Congress in the game…The gambit to prolong the talks with the LJP chief does not seem to have worked in the Congress’s favour; it gave Paswan the window to hammer out a far more favourable deal with BJP…
Bharatiya Janata Party President Rajnath Singh recently told a gathering of Muslim intellectuals and community leaders that his party would bow down to seek forgiveness if it had committed any mistake — a reference, unmistakably, to the 2002 Gujarat riots. The previous day, Singh had admitted Dalit leader Udit Raj to the BJP fold. Also, the party had been anxious to stitch an electoral alliance with its former-friend-turned-foe Ram Vilas Paswan in Bihar. In a matter of 48 hours, the BJP had not only reached out to communities that are not its traditional vote bank – the Dalits and Muslims — but wooed people from these communities more vigorously than earlier.
In a season of political deal-making, it would seem the party is not only keener to win new friends but is ahead of rival Congress in the game. Its only competition, if at all, has come from regional satraps and the Left parties, which resolved to fight the elections together against both the Congress and BJP. Party sources said the BJP’s outreach to the two communities had the blessings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Though Singh didn’t mention the 2002Gujarat riots, party insiders suggested the effort was part of the ‘Modi for PM: 272’ campaign.
The party’s SC Morcha head claims to have worked for over a year to get Udit Raj in the fold and explore an alliance with LJP in Bihar. He had once been part of the LJP as well. “Paswans are a dominant Dalit community in Bihar. We are six per cent of the population,” he said, explaining the rationale behind BJP’s anxiety to finalise the alliance. Sanjay Paswan said both admitting Raj and the alliance with LJP would send a positive signal across India about the BJP being friendly to Dalit interests. Of the 543 constituencies, 84 are reserved for SCs. Uttar Pradesh has as many as 17 SC constituencies and, Paswan said, the party would give seven of those to Jatavs, the caste arch-rival Bahujan Samajwadi Party head Mayawati represents.
Paswan, who sits in a room with posters of not only B R Ambedkar but Dalit icons like Jagjivan Ram, Kanshi Ram and K R Narayanan, claims he has faced opposition in the party for his political convictions. None of these icons was ever in the BJP. He says he faced much resistance from leaders for putting these posters. “But Rajnath Singhji and Narendra Modiji supported me,” he says, adding the BJP is undergoing a process of democratisation and is no longer a Brahmin-Baniya party.
Party sources said it should not be assumed the RSS would be unhappy. “These are crucial months in the run-up to the elections. For us, each seat will be important. We need to try and reach as close to the 272-seat mark as possible,” said a source. He said the current BJP President was close to the RSS, which had pushed for his appointment as the President, even at the cost of upsetting veteran L K Advani.
The BJP-LJP alliance will be a major jolt to the Congress’s efforts in Bihar to put together “a secular alliance and stem the BJP-led communal forces”. The Congress had been hoping to wean away Ram Vilas Paswan to its side, According to sources, the LJP was bargaining hard for seven to eight seats in Bihar, while the Congress camp is not willing to offer more than five. Among the contentious seats both parties are fighting is Jamui, from where Ram Vilas Paswan wants to field his son, Chirag Paswan. The Congress camp had reportedly been opposed.
From the Congress side, senior leader Ahmed Patel and Congress General-Secretary CP Joshi had spearheaded the talks. “We cannot overlook the fact that Paswan holds sway over five per cent of votes and could bring in the much-needed Dalit vote we need,” said a Bihar leader.The gambit to prolong the talks with the LJP chief does not seem to have worked in the Congress’s favour; it gave Paswan the window to hammer out a far more favourable deal with BJP. The BJP, according to sources, was willing to offer LJP six to seven seats. The Congress was watching the events in Patna closely, as it will impact the nature of political formations that might materialise in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.