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Masterstroke or a Mistake? BJP's Sidelining of Pashupati Paras in Bihar

This political gambit seems to have found tacit support from within the JD(U) itself.

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In a stunning political gambit that has sent shockwaves through the alliance dynamics of Bihar, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has made the inexplicable decision to sideline its most trusted ally in the state - Pashupati Kumar Paras of the Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party (RLJP). Paradoxically, the party has extended an olive branch to Paras' rebellious nephew Chirag Paswan, the very man whose solo run in the 2020 assembly elections deeply upset the BJP-led NDA's carefully crafted game plan.

This counterintuitive move has left political pundits and allies perplexed, but it underscores the BJP's profound mastery of Machiavellian realpolitik and its uncompromising approach to the delicate art of alliance management. At its core lies the strategy of cultivating regional partners who unquestioningly play second fiddle to the "big brother" in New Delhi, no matter their perceived significance or loyalty.

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BJP's Systematically Belittling of 'Big Egos'

Pashupati Paras had embodied this pragmatic stance to near perfection, avoiding needless grandstanding against NDA (National Democratic Alliance) allies like Nitish Kumar's JD(U) [Janata Dal (United)], and maintaining his influence primarily through the BJP's patronage rather than charting an overtly autonomous path.

His malleable faction had earned the BJP's blessings, while Chirag's rebellion was denied outright – a stern message that any attempt to upstage the BJP's overarching political machinations would be swiftly and decisively neutralised. 

Akash Yadav, a prominent RLJP leader, has lambasted this betrayal, questioning Chirag's loyalty to the BJP while terming the move an "anti-Dalit approach." He highlighted Chirag's vocal criticism of key BJP policies like the Agnipath scheme, his criticism of the BJP on vacating his late father Ram Vilas Paswan's official bungalow, and the immense damage he inflicted on the NDA during his solo electoral adventure in 2020. Yadav even raised doubts over Chirag's perceived proximity to former Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD, asserting that any NDA ally could potentially swap loyalties to Lalu Prasad's camp if circumstances demanded.

However, at the crux of the BJP's decision lies its long-standing strategy of systematically belittling "big egos" in state politics and ruthlessly clipping the wings of allies who nurse ambitions beyond their established vote share and sphere of influence. As the undisputed largest party in Bihar, the BJP can no longer afford to play second fiddle, especially given the mercurial Nitish Kumar's history of ditching the NDA not once, but twice in the past decade alone. Under the leadership of Samrat Chaudhary, the BJP has left no stone unturned in aggressively expanding its footprint, engineering a steady stream of defections to its ranks. 

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JD(U) Has Supported the Move

The accommodation of Chirag Paswan, despite his past transgressions, serves the strategic purpose of Acting as a counterweight to Nitish Kumar's re-entry into the NDA fold. With the JD(U) now commanding the second-largest number of MPs after the BJP, Nitish's bargaining power in seat-sharing negotiations has increased exponentially. However, his apparent prime ministerial ambitions have made the BJP wary, necessitating the introduction of a wild card like Chirag who could potentially keep the JD(U) in check.

Intriguingly, this political gambit seems to have found tacit support from within the JD(U) itself.

Ashok Chowdhury, a prominent Nitish Kumar aide who played a crucial role in ushering the JD(U) chief back into the NDA's embrace in January 2024, has his vested interests at play. Chowdhury's daughter Shambhavi is a top contender for the Jamui Lok Sabha seat, which happens to be Chirag Paswan's sitting constituency. By convincing Nitish to tolerate Chirag's re-entry, the JD(U) has likely bargained for facilitating Shambhavi's candidacy while maintaining a semblance of proximity between the two alliance partners. 

The BJP's modus operandi is clear – no regional leader in Bihar gets a free pass to assume the mantle of the "big brother" unless they amass a formidable and substantial independent vote-bank that extends far beyond the NDA's traditional support base. Even with support, the BJP seeks to keep them in a subordinate role, presenting itself as the sole national governance option.

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The Dilemma for Regional Leaders in Bihar

This poses a dilemma for regional leaders, needing the BJP's partnership for immediate power but aiming to break free from secondary roles in the long run. Pashupati Paras, acknowledging ground realities, chose to stay as BJP's dependable junior partner in Bihar, leveraging the party's resources and appeal to maintain regional relevance. For the BJP, allies like Paras offer ready coalition options, ensuring political strength without conceding major ground and broadening its social coalition beyond just Hindutva. 

By favouring Chirag Paswan over Pashupati Paras, the BJP has shown its commitment to retaining the LJP's significant 6% Dalit vote within the NDA, aligning with its strategy to penetrate non-upper caste demographics via regional allies. This delicate strategy aims to empower allies sufficiently to project coalition inclusivity, yet ensures the BJP retains ultimate control, dictating terms and accommodating rival interests only when advantageous.

In the complex, caste-ridden battleground of Bihar, the BJP has reaffirmed its status as the unparalleled teacher whose allies must stringently follow the rulebook to earn their share of power.

Through this latest move mastering the Machiavellian art of alliance management, the BJP has ensured that regional forces remain no more than subordinate appendages working to further its overarching national agenda, despite the optics of coalition politics. 

In this saga's cruellest twist, the BJP has sacrificed its most loyal ally, Pashupati Paras, at the altar of cold political calculus. The accommodation of Chirag Paswan, regardless of the circumstances, is a pragmatic ploy – not borne out of any ideological kinship, but rather a means to consolidate the NDA's critical Dalit vote bank while simultaneously clipping the JD(U)'s wings ahead of the all-important electoral battles on the horizon.

The BJP's treatment of Pashupati Paras reflects ruthless realpolitik, where alliances are tools to be used and discarded to suit the party's evolving interests. It showcases a calculated strategy of empowering and undermining partners to maintain hegemony. Paras' relegation from the inner circle is a stark lesson in the party's uncompromising loyalty rules. Loyalty is betrayed for political ambition and vote-bank realignment. 

(Ashraf Nehal is a foreign policy analyst and a columnist who mainly tracks South Asia. He can be reached on Twitter at @ashrafnehal19 and on Instagram at ___ashraf___19. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)

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Topics:  Bihar 

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