Bihar Elections: LJP Story Isn’t Just About BJP, It’s About RSS
Several RSS cadres openly admit to campaigning for LJP candidates against Nitish Kumar’s JD(U).
In his twenties, Vinit Singh is a young volunteer associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Bihar's Arrah district. He is actively campaigning in the ongoing Bihar Assembly elections in several constituencies in the Bhojpur region.
In the Arrah Assembly seat, he has been campaigning for BJP candidate Amrendra Pratap Singh, who lost narrowly to the RJD in 2015. This time he's up against CPI-ML candidate Kyamuddin Ansari from the Mahagathbandhan.
However, Vinit Singh also went to Dinara in Rohtas district to campaign for Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) candidate Rajendra Singh, a former RSS Pracharak.
Rajendra Singh is pitted against JD(U)‘s Jai Kumar Singh, who was a minister in the Nitish Kumar government. Dinara is tipped to be one of the LJP’s best bets in the first phase of polling and Vinit Singh is extremely confident of Rajendra Singh’s chances. If that happens, this would be one of the seats where the LJP ends up hurting the JD(U).
BJP Leaders Fighting On LJP Tickets
A former Bihar BJP vice-president and the party’s in-charge for the 2014 Jharkhand polls, Rajendra Singh is among several leaders associated with the BJP or RSS contesting under LJP ticket.
Such candidates have mostly been fielded against nominees of BJP's pre-poll ally – Janata Dal (United) of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The LJP has also put up candidates against smaller allies like the Hindustan Awam Morcha and Vikassheel Insan Party. It’s competing with the BJP only in a handful of seats.
At least 20 leaders with a BJP or RSS background have been given tickets by Chirag Paswan. Rajendra Singh, being an RSS pracharak and known to have some clout within the Sangh, is the most prominent example but not the only one.
Despite being suspended on paper by the BJP and publicly criticised by party leaders, most of these candidates have retained a toe-hold in their parent party.
Take Chandra Bhushan Thakur, the LJP candidate from Kadwa in Katihar district for instance. His Facebook page cover photo is still of himself with the BJP flag, even though right below he is seeking votes on an LJP ticket. Thakur, too, is a proud Swayamsevak. Here’s his picture in the RSS uniform.
Some of the other LJP candidates with an RSS background include Pradip Thakur from Darbhanga Rural, Deo Ranjan Singh from Maharajganj and Rameshwar Chaurasiya from Sasaram.
Of course, this is not to say that there are no candidates from other ideological persuasions in the LJP list. From Bochahan in Muzaffarpur district, the party has fielded Amar Azad, who was earlier part of the Bhim Army. The party has also given tickets to Muslim candidates in a few places.
However, the representation of RSS background candidates in the LJP list is definitely one of the most fascinating aspects of the entire election. For a party that blamed RSS for the NDA’s defeat in 2015, the LJP has come a long way.
Chirag Paswan Popular Among RSS Cadres
Coming back to Vinit Singh. His support to the LJP isn't restricted to one seat or merely due to the fact that a former RSS pracharak like Rajendra Singh is contesting under the party's ticket. He is also an admirer of LJP supremo Chirag Paswan.
"Neta ho toh aap jaisa (A politician should be like you)" Vinit Singh wrote on his Facebook wall, praising Chirag Paswan for openly supporting BJP candidate Shreyasi Singh from the Jamui Assembly seat.
Vinit Singh is not an isolated case. Several people associated with the RSS are actively campaigning for LJP candidates in select seats.
Sunil, who is associated with the RSS, is campaigning for the LJP in Aurangabad district. He even posted openly on social media that in Obra and Kutumba seats in Aurangabad district, the LJP and BJP cadres are working together to ensure the victory of LJP candidates.
According to a RSS volunteer from Aurangabad district, “committed BJP workers” are helping LJP in Obra and Kutumba seats in the district.
"LJP is winning both the seats with the help of committed BJP workers," he posted on Twitter, on which he is followed by BJP functionaries.
His likes and dislikes are quite clear – his Twitter timeline is devoted to praising Chirag Paswan, PM Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, but he often trolls Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.
Many in the RSS who aren't campaigning for LJP, are still cheering LJP's Chirag Paswan in his battle against Nitish Kumar and the JD(U).
Of course, this isn’t a uniform pattern. In many seats, RSS cadres are working for JD(U) candidates as well but whenever the LJP candidate has a BJP or RSS background, preference is clearly towards the latter.
Chirag Paswan, on his part, has tried to keep this section happy by giving tickets to leaders with RSS or BJP backgrounds and consistently praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his campaign. He even went to the extent of calling himself “PM Modi’s Hanuman”.
This narrative is reflected at the constituency level as well. In Dinara, for instance, a campaign song for Rajendra Singh begins by praising Chirag Paswan, Late Ram Vilas Paswan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, not any leader from the state BJP or CM Nitish Kumar.
Many RSS cadres want Bihar’s first BJP government. As Chirag Paswan openly said that he wants the same, his party has become a natural option for RSS people in JD(U) seats.
Many RSS cadres firmly believe that the time has come for Bihar to have a BJP government for the first time and that the party shouldn't be propping up Nitish Kumar any more.
Chirag Paswan, with his open declaration of wanting a BJP-led government in the state, has emerged as a natural option in seats being contested by JD(U).
Resentment Against Sushil Modi
A few cadres privately blame Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi for doing Nitish Kumar’s bidding and sidelining leaders of his own party.
Sunil from Aurangabad, for instance says that "The battle which Sushil Modi should have been fighting on behalf of workers like us, is being fought by Chirag Paswan. All committed BJP workers will support LJP candidates".
“Sushil Modi is out to sideline all the savarn (Upper Caste) BJP leaders. Why were Rajendra Singh and Chandrabhan Thakur denied tickets?” a party worker said.
Another accusation against Sushil Modi from this section is that he isn't pro-Hindutva enough and that someone like Giriraj Singh should be the BJP's face in Bihar.
Even around 2012-2013, when tensions had increased between BJP and JD(U), Giriraj Singh would frequently target Nitish Kumar, make communal statements and it was often left to Sushil Modi to broker peace.
Therefore, the BJP exodus into LJP is also a result of the internal tussle within the Bihar BJP.
There's another important aspect to this – caste.
The Sangh infiltration of the LJP can also be seen as an attempt to weaken Bihar's social justice-based parties even further.
Though Sangh has made inroads among OBCs and Dalits, it remains a largely Upper Caste dominated organisation.
In this election, the LJP has emerged as an important vehicle for pushing Upper Caste representation. Over 40 percent of the LJP candidates hail from Upper Castes, second only to that of the BJP and more or less equal to the Congress. In comparison, RJD and JD(U) are both heavily OBC dominated.
Bihar hasn't had an Upper Caste chief minister for over three decades now. First Lalu Yadav and then Nitish Kumar represented OBC dominance over state politics. For all these years, Upper Castes backed Nitish Kumar against Lalu Prasad, who was considered openly against to their interests. Representation of Upper Castes in key positions increased substantially under Nitish Kumar.
However, the expectations of Upper Castes in Bihar have also increased, especially after Uttar Pradesh got a Thakur CM after 15 years in 2017 and Upper Caste leaders from Bihar like Ravi Shankar Prasad, Radha Mohan Singh, Giriraj Singh and RK Singh became ministers under PM Modi.
Now, Chirag Paswan is offering an even better deal than Kumar as far as Upper Caste representation is concerned. He’s promising a BJP-led government in the state and one that would presumably be dominated by Upper Castes.
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