The Bihar Assembly election, scheduled to begin later this month, is no longer a bipolar contest between the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Opposition United Progressive Alliance (UPA), thanks to Chirag Paswan, president of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). The 37-year-old walked away from the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar-led NDA in Bihar, while at the same time continuing to support the BJP.
If the LJP successfully cuts into the Janata Dal(U)’s vote share and seat tally without affecting the BJP’s performance, the State, for the first time, could see a BJP Chief Minister. This is a scenario that Mr. Chirag claims to be working for. On the other side, the Opposition Mahagatbandhan (grand alliance), led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), is hoping to gain from the divisions within the NDA.
On October 4, four days after the LJP announced its decision to go solo, party patriarch and Mr. Chirag’s father Ram Vilas Paswan died of a prolonged illness, leaving the son in charge of the party’s election tactics. The LJP had seen a smooth transfer of power between the father and the son, something the senior Paswan was proud of. On November 5 last year, he handed over the reins of the party to Mr. Chirag. He often cited the bitter political feud between Mulayam Singh and son Akhilesh Singh Yadav when the latter took over the Samajwadi Party. The warmth between the two Paswans was visible and often advertised. During the lockdown, a video of the son giving the father a shave was circulated by the party. The two sat for interviews together.
Mr. Chirag’s first appearance at a political event was as a one-year-old sitting on his mother’s lap during the launch of the Dalit Sena in 1983. Ram Vilas Paswan built the LJP 17 years later on the foundations laid by the Sena.
Born to a Bihari father and Punjabi mother (Reena Sharma Paswan), Mr. Chirag is part Punjabi and part Bihari, though, it is the latter part that he wants the world to concentrate on. To assert his Bihari identity, he recently changed his social media name to ‘Yuva Bihari Chirag Paswan’.
He did his schooling from the Air Force Golden Jubilee Institute in the Army Cantonment area in Delhi. Later, he joined Amity University for the B.Tech. Computer Science programme, but left it mid-way. In Mr. Chirag’s own words, his friends, impressed by his “good looks”, prodded him to go to Mumbai to try his luck in Bollywood.
By 2002, he was travelling between Delhi and Mumbai, training to be an actor. In 2010, Miley Naa Miley Hum, his only film, co-starring Kangana Ranaut, was released. Three-years later, well in time for the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, Mr. Chirag was back in Bihar.
He is often nostalgic about his foray into the Bollywood. “There was a very famous song from my movie, “Katto Gilehri…”, written by Javed Sahab [lyricist Javed Akhtar], that happens to be a popular song in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. So when I go out at times, they sing the song, the youth tell me that I look good, and I must make another movie, but politics is a full-time and the only job for me,” he told The Hindu in 2019.
His entry into politics meant a new chapter for the LJP. In March 2014, he steered his father towards Narendra Modi, 12 years after the senior Paswan quit the NDA, criticising Mr. Modi over the Gujarat riots.
“My father was my best friend. While everyone else in the party was scared to tell him their minds about joining hands with Modiji, I could easily talk, argue and goad him,” Mr Paswan later said. While his father struggled to justify the switch, Mr. Chirag had no such qualms. Questions on Mr. Modi’s “secular credentials” were deflected by listing out the 1984 anti-Sikh riots or the 1989 Bhagalpur riots, among others.
In 2005, Ram Vilas Paswan played a key role in changing the political course of Bihar.
He walked out of the RJD-Congress alliance, and the LJP contested against the RJD but not against the Congress. The gamble paid off, as it brought an end to the 15-year rule of Lalu Prasad.
In the election held in February 2005, the LJP got 29 seats. This led to a hung house and fresh election in which Nitish Kumar swept to power. Mr. Chirag wants history to repeat in 2020.
The difference, however, is that this time, Mr. Kumar could be at the receiving end.