He could not succeed as a Bollywood actor. But, in exactly a month from now, it will become evident, if the biggest gamble of his nascent political life pays off and helps him reverse the script in politics.
For, battleground Bihar, which goes to poll from 28 October in a three-phase election and whose result will be out on 10 November, will in a way decide if 37-year-old Chirag Paswan, son and political heir of Ram Vilas Paswan and president of Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), has managed to emerge out of the shadow of his father, who was among the prominent Dalit leaders of India.
Paswan senior, the Union consumer affairs, food and public distribution minister, died in Delhi Thursday evening. But in the weeks preceding his death, his son Chirag played probably the biggest gamble of his political career by deciding to go solo in the assembly election and walk out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar.
In doing so, he seems to have taken a leaf out of his father’s playbook. Paswan senior was known for his political opportunism and had the knack of predicting which way the political wind was blowing. While walking out of the NDA alliance in Bihar, Chirag made it clear that LJP’s alliance with the NDA at the Centre will be intact and pledged his continued allegiance to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He said that the LJP does not want to fight under Janata Dal (United) president and chief minister Nitish Kumar’s leadership in Bihar. This had led to speculation that Chirag is going after Nitish Kumar at the behest of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Earlier this week, the BJP had to distance itself from the LJP publicly and reaffirm its support for Nitish Kumar.
Chirag Paswan’s gamble just ahead of the Bihar election could end up deciding not only his own political fortune but also the fate of the LJP. If the LJP, which won just two out of the 243 assembly seats in the 2015 election, manages to spring a surprise under Chirag’s leadership, it will be the coming of age of Paswan junior in the rough and tumble of Bihar politics. It will also ensure a smooth transition of the legacy of Ram Vilas Paswan. Now the ball is in Chirag Paswan’s court. And that is why he is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Bollywood actor to political actor
Lovingly called ‘Dipu’ by his father, Chirag is the only son of Paswan senior, with his second wife Reena. Pampered by Ram Vilas Paswan, Chirag did not show much interest in politics initially despite growing up in a political household. His heart was set in acting. But life had other plans.
His first film, Miley Na Miley Hum with Kangana Ranaut, tanked at the box office in 2011. Grapevine has it that the movie was so bad that multiplex owners in Bihar had to pull it down from the theatre in three days. That marked the end of Chirag’s film career and the start of his political innings. Although he won two consecutive Lok Sabha elections from Bihar’s Jamui constituency in 2014 and 2019, Paswan senior had firmly held the reigns of the LJP.
The doting father, who was famously called “mausam vaigyanik” or weather scientist by his political contemporaries for predicting which way the political winds were blowing, however, was pragmatic enough to realise that his failing health would make it difficult for him to be active like before, and passed on the reign of the Lok Janshakti Party, which he founded in 2000, to his son last year.
Chirag took charge of the party and decided on all important party matters including selection of candidates and the number of seats the LJP will contest. But even that has failed to change the popular perception that Chirag is not a serious politician.
In fact, this is the biggest grouse that Chirag has with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s government. Paswan junior had said in several public speeches that neither Kumar nor officials in his government respond to issues raised by him.
A senior JD(U) leader, who did not want to be named, said that this reflects the lack of political savviness on Chirag’s part, something his father had in abundance. “Chirag has been very aggressive in his criticism of a senior leader like Nitish Kumar. He does not realise that in politics you don’t make your dislike for your opponent personal. In politics, you should not have permanent enemies. You may end up needing your enemy’s help tomorrow,” the leader said.
Under Paswan’s shadow
Old-timers reminisce how unlike his father, Chirag Paswan does not connect with voters from his constituency. Even a few years back, there was a room in Ram Vilas Paswan’s official bungalow in Delhi designated to provide accommodation for anybody coming from his constituency, Hajipur. But that has stopped now. “These were the small things that were behind Paswan senior’s popularity in his constituency,” another opposition leader said.
The senior JD(U) leader quoted earlier also said that he had known Paswan senior for 45 years and during his heydays seen him visit any place in India where Dalit atrocities have taken place.
“Compare this to Chirag. As a Dalit leader, tell me how many places has he visited where some or the other atrocity was committed against members of the community? That is the difference. He has to learn to declass himself among the people of his community to be accepted by them. Linen ka kurta pehan kar Dalit politics nahin kar sakte (You can’t do Dalit politics wearing a linen kurta),” the JD(U) leader said.
“Ram Vilas Paswan had credibility, acceptability and mass base. This man does not have any of the three qualities till now,” the leader added.
Opposition leaders say that the election result in the state will ultimately decide the utility of the LJP and the importance of Chirag Paswan.
“Chirag has so far been under the shadow of his father and fought and won elections because of him and with him. This will be his first political gamble. If he gets a good number of seats, he will have his utility. Otherwise, he will end up being sidelined,” a Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader, who did not want to be named, said.
The criticism notwithstanding, Chirag Paswan is making all the right noises ahead of the election. When his father was in a Delhi hospital, the who’s who in the BJP including home minister Amit Shah and party president J.P. Nadda met him to discuss seat sharing. This was before he decided that the LJP will go solo in the election.
He has made the emotional pitch of bringing back Bihar’s lost pride. “Bihar first Bihari first” is the election war cry of his party that promises to make the state number one in terms of development and infrastructure. One will have to wait till 10 November to see if the gamble pays off.
Views are personal.