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What's the plan, Mr Paswan?
Aditi Phadnis |
April 09, 2005 15:48 IST
Recently, The Economist carried a story on the dismal state of affairs in Nepal after King Gyanendra took over. It recorded the state of apparently amiable drift and the headline went: "What's the Plan, Gyan?"
More than a month has passed by since the Bihar elections, with no signs of a government emerging from the present hung assembly.
The remaining weeks will fly past and before we know, the six months of President's Rule in the state will be over and the government will come knocking at the Parliament's door for an extension, or to seek another election.
Yet, the acknowledged king-maker in Bihar, Ramvilas Paswan, persists in saying that he will not be part of any government that has either Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal or Bharatiya Janata Party or its allies as partners; does not make a Muslim the chief minister of Bihar; does not dismantle Lalu's model of social engineering, replacing it with another.
All these demands are politically and logistically impossible. It seems to suggest that Paswan, from being the most wanted in Bihar, actually wants to become the most hated man in Indian politics by blocking a representative government in the state.
It would be appropriate to ask the question The Economist asked King Gyanendra: "What's the Plan, Ramvilas?"
The fact is that Paswan doesn't have a plan - and this is terrifying him. He had said before the Bihar assembly elections that the election would be a comprehensive defeat for the Lalu-Rabri team. That has happened. He had campaigned against the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
The alliance has done well in terms of seats, but the percentage of its vote has gone down, with some of it apparently drifting to Paswan.
Paswan himself has managed to get more than 12 per cent of the popular vote, which puts him securely in the black and makes him viable. It is a classic case of wishing for something and actually getting it!
Little wonder then that Paswan is such a worried man these days. He ruefully conceded to friends recently that even with no organisation and few resources, contesting the election had been easier than this.
He has 29 legislators, who are raring to become ministers, and whom he has to keep convinced and satiated while talking about government formation to old comrades and friends who can see him emerging as another competitor and rival and are, therefore, trying to cut him down at every step.
And then there are Lalu's manoeuvres to watch out for. Whoever said politics was easy! If you were Paswan, wouldn't you be terrified as well?
What is Paswan up against in Patna? In fact, very little has been changed by the bureaucracy in Patna that Governor Buta Singh is presiding over. It's just that after 15 years of Lalu raj, even small changes are being noted by the people of Bihar as signs of improvement.
In Gandhi Maidan now, boys can play cricket till 11 at night without fearing for their lives; there is a significant improvement in law and order.
Action against criminal elements by the bureaucracy is sharp and visible - look at the way the DM of Siwan C K Anil has externed from the district, Lalu's bahubalis (strongmen) as they are known in Bihar. In the past, such decisive action would not have been possible.
Patna is cleaner and the governor has no compunctions about working as a municipal chief. A Rs 35-lakh project to install solar "road sparklers" on the main roads in Patna - originally envisaged by the RJD government but consigned to the dustbins - has been implemented, causing former RJD leaders to comment that it was as if the city was celebrating Diwali because of the President's rule.
Last week, angry shopkeepers beat three extortionists to death after the armed criminals went to a liquor shop and opened fire when the vendor refused to give them two cartons of beer free of cost.
As they tried to flee on their motorbikes, in a show of strength Patna thought it had forgotten, shopkeepers overpowered them and beat them to death.
The same chief secretary who was seen as the man carrying out every order, wrong or right, issued by Lalu and Rabri, is now conceding that he has received many complaints about choked drains and tube wells and has ordered better quality drinking water for Patna.
For the first time in years, residents expect that the city roads will not be waterlogged during the monsoon and you will actually be able to walk on them.
After many years, the bureaucracy can re-gather the remains of its tattered dignity in the state and actually go about the business of governance - something that is visible to everyone.
Paswan, therefore, is clear: his political strategy in the short term will be to ensure that the President's rule in the state stays for as long as possible.
His problem: using his clout within the United Progressive Alliance and from a fear of his image of being damaged by his own allies, Lalu might force the Centre to install a minority government. Home Minister Shivraj Patil has been quoted saying as much.
If that happens, Paswan is up a slippery pole. He cannot oppose or prevent the revival of the assembly -- that would be anti-democratic. And there are potent reasons for the assembly to be revived.
Bihar is one of the few states where MLAs begin to get salary, houses and perks only after they have taken oath. So by being seen as preventing the Assembly from being constituted, Paswan earns the ire of not just his own MLAs, but also of others who might potentially want to cross the floor and join his endeavour to set up a government.
He has met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on this issue. Whether the PM will listen to him is another matter.
But Paswan is clear on several things: he does not want to be the chief minister. He will heed 54 per cent of LJP voters who, an election survey during the campaign revealed, were opposed to an alliance with the RJD as against 11 per cent who were for such a tie-up.
And he will resist any identification with the NDA because this does not suit his long-term ambition and strategy - PM, not CM. Can India ever have a Dalit prime minister? Stranger things have been known to happen.