October 20, 2020

BJP sees seat fuel for Paswan fire

New Delhi: The BJP acknowledges that the intensifying “anti-Dalit” perception about the party and the Narendra Modi government was a matter of concern but feels the latest effort by ally Ram Vilas Paswan to turn up the heat on the issue has more to do with “bargaining” for seats in the 2019 general election and the subsequent Bihar polls.

The re-induction of Nitish Kumar into the NDA fold and a more domineering BJP, compared to its previous avatar, has unsettled the Bihar parties and they are mounting pressure ahead of the polls to get their “due” share, several BJP leaders said.

“Yes, there is an effort to portray the BJP as anti-Dalit and anti-reservation and it is sticking to an extent. Paswanji is raising a relevant issue but his strident position has more do with seat sharing in Bihar,” a senior BJP leader said. “In politics, such things happen closer to elections,” the leader added and expressed confidence that the issue would be sorted out.

Paswan’s party LJP has set the Centre an August 9 deadline to undo the Supreme Court’s dilution of the Dalit atrocity law through an ordinance and remove Justice A.K. Goel, one of the judges who passed the order, as the chairperson of the National Green Tribunal. The BJP feels Paswan has put the government in a spot and his position would only add to the “anti-Dalit” perception about the Centre.

The BJP leaders have pointed out how all the three Bihar allies – Nitish Kumar, Ram Vilas Paswan and Upendra Kushwaha – have started scaling up pressure by raising issues related to their vote base as the Lok Sabha polls are nearing. The Bihar polls are scheduled in 2020.

The re-entry of Nitish into the NDA with the claim of being the senior partner in Bihar has created problems for the BJP as well as other partners. In 2014, the JDU, after snapping ties with the BJP, had contested alone and bagged just two seats. The BJP contested a lion’s share of the 40 seats, along with allies Paswan, Kushwaha and former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi. The BJP won 22, LJP six, RLSP three and Manjhi’s party failed to open account.

In the pre-2014 arrangement, the JDU used to be the senior and the BJP its junior partner in the state. The JDU had contest 25 and the BJP 15 seats.

“The situation has transformed after 2014. We have given Nitish Kumar the chief minister’s chair but is it acceptable that we play junior partner in the Lok Sabha polls?” asked a BJP leader. “We are ready to give a respectable number of seats to Nitish’s party but he has to take into account that we have 22 MPs from the state,” the leader added.

This leader felt that the prospect of the BJP and the JDU cornering most of the 40 seats and leaving very little for the LJP and the RLSP has put them on guard.

“Paswanji, by raising the legitimate issue of Dalit rights, is actually trying to tell the BJP that he can’t be ignored in seat-sharing. Kushwaha, too, is doing the same,” the leader said.

Pressure from the JDU to clear the air over seat distribution had led BJP chief Amit Shah to call on Nitish Kumar in Patna recently. Shah has not yet met Paswan and Kushwaha separately.

The BJP feels that with the TDP quitting the NDA and the Shiv Sena appearing set to snap ties just ahead of the 2019 polls, the other allies are trying to take advantage of the situation and drive a hard bargain.

“There is no question of any of the Bihar allies walking away. Nitishji can’t afford to align again with the RJD, Paswanji has realised that Modiji is still unbeatable and Kushwahaji knows that even if he quits NDA, the Modi-Nitish-Paswan combination in Bihar will have enough votes,” a Union minister from Bihar said, asserting that the seat distribution would be settled amicably.

Courtesy: The Telegraph

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