Ramvilas Paswan's Rise to Power

A Political Profile

Md. Sajjad
Lecturer, Centre of Advance Study
Department of History
AMU, Aligarh



The Dalit politician, Ram Vilas Paswan was born in 1947 in a backward village of India's north Bihar, in a relatively prosperous Dusadh family. His grandfather had only 2 acres of land which was enhanced to 30 acres (even though mostly flood prone) by his father and uncle. His father had an urge to educate his children. There was no school in the village, hence he hired a tutor, first a Bania, then a Kayastha. He was admitted to 4th standard in a school, few kms away from his village, where he could reach by crossing 2 rivers, one by boat another by wading upto the waist. Untouchability was not the issue in the school as there were no upper caste students. He studied in High school by staying in the Harijan hostel. He survived on tuition taking grains from home, and also on a scholarship of Rs 10 a month. He did his BA from Patna again living in Harijan hostel. The scholarship paid to him was irregular and delayed in the way as the govt. employees in Bihar get their salaries. He received his last installment of scholarship only after becoming MLA in 1969.
At the college he paid more attention to politics than to studies. His claim about his politicization is dated back to an incident in his own village.

An ailing Chamar had gone into a debt to his Brahman employer for a sum of Rs. 50 which the Brahman claimed to have had spent on the medicine for the Chamar.Thereafter,.for the next 10 years he went on paying the interest on the 'debt'. He paid upto Rs 300/-.
Again he borrowed Rs 75/- from the Brahman by mortgaging his tiny plot of land to arrange his daughter's marriage. He was forced to forfeit the land to the Brahman. Bereft of the piece of land, he was forced to migrate to Purnea to work as a labour. brought Rs 350/- of savings, which was demanded by the brahman. The refusal resulted into the chamar being bound hand and foot. When the chamar was about to be thrashed by the Brahman,Mr. Paswan struck the Brahman in fury and the got the Chamar released. The younger generation of the Dalits stood by Paswan and the brahman had to leave the village for good, just for the humiliation of having been beaten by a Dalit.

After BA and before completing his LL B, Paswan qualified at the provincial civil service(BPSC) exam and was selected as Dy.S.P.in the reserved quota for the Scheduled Castes(SC). But before joining the police training, he had already come into contact with some socialists and had worked in the vicinity, moving on cycle. He got the ticket from Lohia's Sanjukt Socialist Party(SSP) and won the 1969 Assembly elections from a constituency reserved for SCs. By that time, he says, he was greatly attracted towards the Naxalite movement but he never joined it formally.

In 1970, he served 7 month imprisonment in Bhagalpur jail. Became a close colleague of JP in 1974 and went to jail during the Emergency(1975-1977),Won the Lok sabha elections in 1977 and kept winning since then, except in 1984. In 1989, he won by a record margin of over 5 lakhs votes from Hajipur, getting a space in the Guineas' Book of World Records. Besides Lohia and JP, he is greatly influenced by Chaudhary Charan Singh, Karpuri Thakur and VP Singh.

He got the cabinet berth as the Union Labour and Welfare Minister in the VP Singh's cabinet. He claims to have got extended benefits to Dalits and the OBCs. He got the credit of having installed Ambedkar's statue in the Central Hall of the Parliament, which was a long standing demand of the Dalits. He also claims to have persuaded the govt. to extend reservation benefits to the Mahars( a Dalit caste of Maharashtra to which Ambedkar belonged) who had become Buddhists.

He worked for Mandalization and reservation of seats in the govt. job for the OBCs. His object(both in govt and opposition) was to promote himself as a strong leader of the other castes like the OBCs and the Muslims. However, thus far no Muslim politician of any eminence owes his/her political rise to Paswan. In fact among the Muslim politicians, particularly of Bihar, it is a common belief that Laloo and Paswan won't ever allow any Muslim to emerge as a leader with an independent base. They prefer only handpicked sycophants to be dumped quite easily.

Here only, Paswan committed a great mistake, to the best of my understanding of the political developments in Bihar since 1990.

Laloo yadav managed to become the Chief Minister of Bihar in 1990 and succeeded in emerging as the only greatest leader of the downtrodden. Paswan's Prime ministerial ambitions prompted by VP Singh for consolidating his own base among dalits persuaded him not to contest for the CM-ship. Thus he lost a historic opportunity to Laloo against whom he is yet to succeed to any significant extent.

By 1980s, he had also started facing competition from Kanshi Ram to become the ''Dalit Leader" of India. This forced him to establish "Dalit Sena" in 1983.To monopolise the legacy of Ambedkar, he had also launched a magazine, Nyaya Chakra, edited by himself. Paswan could make little dent only after the erosion of the base of the Congress among the Dalits in late 1980s. Paswan's own support base among the Dalits is limited by the Chamars, who are in greater number in Bihar, compared to the Dusadhs.

His leaning towards Ambedkar was relatively late, probably because of the fact that in Bihar's Dalit Movements, Ambedkar was not very popular.

After the fall of VP Singh, Paswan again got a berth in Devagowda's cabinet in 1997.He was the minister for Railways- a classic source of patronage. Here, he claims to have promoted Dalit interests; regularised the positions of thousands of temporary sweepers of the Railways.

When the Congress pulled down the Devegowda govt, Paswan was one of the possible names for Prime ministership. it was however, IK Gujral, who got the hot-seat.
Paswan claims to have some inclination towards Naxalism but at the same time, he also recognizes that the structural change will now be difficult to bring about in the short run. That it's too late for radical land reforms. The major way ahead is to train dalits so that they could have marketable skills. Therefore, he demands extension of reservation in the private sector jobs.

"Whatever his youthful origins, Paswan is far from a social revolutionary. He is against the assertion of any animus against the upper castes; his second wife is an upper caste Sikh. ''His overall goal is to work towards ensuring the Dalits and the other groups their fair share of social engineering", say Mendelsohn & Vicziany in their recent work on the Untouchables of India.

In early 2002, while still in the Vajpayee cabinet, he had developed some ill will against the BJP, of course, for his own political gains. He apprehended Mayawati's rise at his cost; and his political base in Bihar, in opposition to Laloo had become precarious. By that time Laloo had also started losing his popularity among the sections of educated middle class of Muslims and other downtrodden. Paswan thought that with the upper caste Hindus and disillusioned Muslims, he could make significant political ascendancy. The opportunity came with the Godhra-Gujarat communal riots of 2003. He broke away from the BJP led NDA govt and engaged himself in deft political footworking. Allied with the Congress-Laloo(UPA), he secured some seats for his LJP in the 14th Lok sabha elections of 2004, only to part from from Laloo soon on the portfolio of Railway ministry while still continuing in the UPA govt. He embarked on recruiting feudal criminal upper castes to his LJP which contested the Bihar Assembly elections in February 2005.Inflicting considerable damage upon the Laloo's RJD with his LJP securing 29 seats. The mandate was unworkably fractured, hence the President Rule was imposed, moments before his upper caste and Yadav MLAs were about to desert him and cross over to the JD-U led NDA in Bihar under Nitish Kumar.

Now, while preparing for the next Assembly elections, he is finding himself on muddled crossroads. Most of the poll pundits(whose prophesies are often proved wrong) think that Paswan's LJP does not stand a good chance in the forthcoming Assembly elections. This aspect, nevertheless, requires a more informed analysis to which one should turn only after few months from now. Before that, it will be too early to say any thing. Suffice it to say here that Janardan Thakur(a renowned journalist of Bihar and author of few books including," All the Janata Men" and "Forty Faces"), in his last mentioned book, i.e, "Forty Faces" had profiled about Paswan that he is successful only as a second rung leader, not as the most prominent leader of the political party he belongs to.

One is still waiting, whether Paswan will be able to prove the observation of Janardan Thakur wrong.