New Paswan model: One 
foot out of NDA, another in

They say Ram Vilas Paswan is a weather vane, invariably jumping on the winning bandwagon on the eve of an election. Given that his Lok Janshakti Party has now decided to keep one foot out of the NDA and another in, is he now half-a-weather vane? The cynical ways of politicians can lead to many unlikely scenarios. But there was no surprise when the LJP distanced itself from the incumbent Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), one-half of the ruling alliance in the state now seeking a fourth term in power. How the strange arrangement will pan out at the ground level in the highly politicised caste-driven electoral politics of Bihar will be known soon.

The Election Commission is likely to soon issue notification for the three-phase October–November poll to elect the 243-member assembly. Chirag Paswan, son of the Central minister, who controls the party founded by his father to tap the support of his caste-brothers among Dalits in the state, is a former failed Bollywood actor. He has been openly sniping at Nitish Kumar, apparently after the Bihar CM failed to accord him deference which the young Paswan believed he was entitled to as the leader of an NDA constituent. Whatever the reason, the new arrangement is bound to confuse Bihar voters.

The LJP threatens to field candidates in all constituencies to be contested by the JD(U) while avoiding to challenge BJP candidates. Since the BJP and the JD(U) are likely to equally share the total seats in the state, the LJP would expect to be accommodated by the BJP, with the latter allocating a considerable number of seats from its own quota. In his meeting with the senior BJP leaders a couple of days ago, Chirag is said to have a made a pitch for 35 seats while the BJP was unwilling to concede about half that number. Eventually, the two might reach an understanding, with the LJP concentrating firepower against JD(U) candidates.

In the last election, the LJP had contested 42 seats and won only two. In 2015, the JD(U) fought the poll in partnership with the RJD. Notably, last week, Nitish Kumar managed to woo back from the RJD-led grand alliance the former Bihar Chief Minister Jitin Ram Manjhi who heads the Hindustani Awam Party. Though a most backward caste, there are fewer Manjhis than Paswans in Bihar. The JD(U) will allocate a handful of seats to Manjhi’s party from its quota. How the topsy-turvy arrangement of seat-sharing and supporting NDA candidates in half the seats and opposing them in the other half will pan out remains to be seen but one can discern the motivation of the Paswan father-and-son team in crafting this curious arrangement.

Clearly, it seems to offer them the best of both worlds. With the elder Paswan retaining his place in the Modi Cabinet, the son will try and brighten his credentials as a new young leader of Bihar, in direct opposition to Lalu Yadav’s tainted sons, Tejashwi and Tej Pratap. This presupposes an eventual decline in the electoral fortunes of Nitish Kumar, so that Paswan’s LJP can replace the JD(U) as the next partner of BJP for power-sharing in Patna. A neat little plan on paper, alright. But only the dog-fight for seats among constituents of the rival alliances, followed by the first full state-wide poll to be held under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, will indicate the success or failure of such a cynical gambit. Meanwhile, the Paswans can keep singing paeans to Modi’s leadership in New Delhi and rant and rave against Nitish Kumar in Patna.

Advance planning for vaccines

Advance planning for vaccinating the vulnerable sections with a Covid-19 vaccine, which is still under trial and whose commercial release remains unknown, has been set in motion by the Centre. It is good. Instead of being caught napping, a firm plan based on sound medical advice ought to be ready as and when India can procure an adequate number of vaccines, which are most likely to be produced by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India both for export, as well as for domestic use.

Additionally, a couple of pharma firms, notably, one based in Hyderabad, might chip in with their own vaccines should they get the manufacturing licence from the winning research lab(s). However, even the Centre has indicated that the most fervently awaited vaccine globally may not be ready for use until next July. By then, the pandemic, which began in Wuhan in December 2019, hopefully, would have waned, having run the course of a full weather cycle globally. As it is, the number of cases recorded last week in some hotspots were lower than those recorded the previous week.

Admittedly, the virus was still strong in certain regions. But it is welcome that the Centre has issued guidelines for un-lockdown-V keeping in mind the potency of the pandemic, as well as the livelihood concerns of the people. Both the Centre and the states should undertake an intensive campaign to educate people to resume normal work by all means but with due elementary precautions, such as masks, social distancing, hand-washing, etc.

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