SEEMA MUSTAFA | 12 NOVEMBER, 2020
The Politics of Chirag Paswan and Owaisi in Bihar
Games that politicians play
Two gentlemen emerged in the Bihar elections this time around, both kept out of alliances and fought independently, with their presence in the field reportedly impacting adversely on both the NDA and the mahagathbandhan respectively.
Both are accused by political opponents of clandestinely working for the BJP, the one to defeat Janata Dal(U) and Nitish Kumar and prevent him from getting more seats than the BJP, and the other for cutting into the vote bank of the mahagathbandhan.
And here the similarities end. Chirag Paswan, who was instrumental in getting his father Ram Vilas Paswan to join the NDA and ally with the BJP, is now head of the Lokjanshakti Party. He left the NDA to mount a strong campaign against Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) in an effort to make it a secondary party in the alliance now dominated by the BJP. Chirag Paswan admitted this at a press conference saying, “I wanted Nitish Kumar to not be Chief Minister ever again for which I tried honestly… but we respect the mandate people have given. Had it been in our hands, we would have intervened. But it is a clear mandate given to BJP and JD(U) and they have to take a decision.”
And if anyone still had doubts he added, “We never concealed our intentions. We believed the JD(U) headed by Kumar needed to be weakened and we succeeded. We wanted to make the BJP stronger and its heft has increased unquestionably.”
Chirag Paswan did not seem to care whether he won or lost ---and as it happened he barely performed at the hustings ---with the party well nigh demolished in the political space. In fact he was hoping, out of the sense of miscalculation that had hounded his father as well through his political life, that the LJP would gain as a result and as he had said during the campaign “help the BJP to form the government.” He, however, was reduced to rubble from rubble and has not emerged as a player post elections making it very easy for the BJP to ignore him now. As it seems to be doing with Bihar party leaders now criticising him for creating “chaos.”
The Paswan scion is seen as too clever by half by Bihar politicians, without the wisdom or experience that can give him the space for such ‘games’. He has lost considerable credibility in the process, and instead of the head start he was clearly hoping for he might just have grinded the LJP to a halt.
The other gentleman is AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi from Hyderabad who in his excitement to defeat the Congress and possibly the Rashtirya Janata Dal actually managed to win five Assembly seats in the Muslim belt of Bihar. A politician accused of playing political footsie with the BJP in Maharashtra, Owaisi is accused by angry Congress leaders for delving into their vote bank and ensuring defeat. One of the spokespersons wanted to know why the BJP treated Owaisi with kid gloves despite his diatribe against it, maintaining that this was only because both were working hand in hand against the ‘secular’ political parties.
Owaisi has an unshakeable following in Hyderabad, and despite efforts locally by political parties and even Muslim gentry he remains pretty well entrenched. He is well educated, a good orator, fluent in languages, and argumentative with a decisive flair. But that he speaks from the side of the conservative Muslims is a given, helps in polarisation of communities through his sheer presence in constituencies, and seems to have a peaceful relationship with the BJP despite his jargon.
For him the five seats in Bihar are invaluable, more so as his strong campaign in Muslim areas seems to have paid him dividends. Unfortunately this will help divisive politics in the region, as AIMIM is not really known for its commitment to secularism in the field. By standing up to the BJP and its ideology Owaisi has commanded attention through these years, speaking out with what some see as courage, and others as part of a deal. There is a big question mark over his politics, that he does not hesitate to deny when asked. But that he always chooses to jump into crucial state elections and work against the perceived interests of the anti-BJP forces feeds into suspicions that he has not been able to shake off.
His argument ‘why should I not contest the elections, I have as much right as anyone else’ seems sound on the face of it. Until his political opponents ask, “why then does he want to cut into our votes, and thereby strengthen the BJP?” For the Owaisi brand of politics, this is not his concern. He is there to contest and he will continue to do so, regardless of the consequences. The problem is he does not have many believers even across the political spectrum.
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