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There are no permanent enemies or friends in politics. Survival is the name of the game. Old marriages are broken amid new vows before elections, expending ideologies, consigning principles to the dustbin.

Ram Vilas Paswan’s presence on Narendra Modi’s stage in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur on Monday was no surprise. It was a reaffirmation of the all-pervasive opportunism in our polity.

Among old acquaintances, Paswan is best remembered for his attack in Parliament on the BJP’s ‘Brahminical’ moorings in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots. Pointing at the treasury benches, he called it a party of cow worshippers who got the gau mata’s carcass removed by Dalits rather than lending it a shoulder on its last journey: “Yeh gai ko mata kahte hain par uske marne ke baad hamey kandha deney ko bulatey hain.”

Paswan’s stinging indictment of the BJP appeared informed by BR Ambedkar’s suspicion of religious nationalism. The Dalit icon rejected in his writings the Sangh Parivar’s faith in the Brahminical order aimed at preserving rather than annihilating the oppressive caste-system.

In fact, in a chance private conversation, Paswan embarrassed a journalist no end by alluding to his caste to praise his support of the social justice movement: “Aap ki main izzat karta hun. Aap Brahmin hokar bhi samajik nyay mein vishwas rakhte hain.”

The journalist retorted by reminding him that Gandhi and Lohia never allowed their origins to influence their level of consciousness. Nor did Marx or Chomsky.

For his part, Modi addressed Paswan’s discomfiture and that of his own at the Muzaffarpur meeting. He trashed the BJP’s opponents prone to painting it as a party of Brahmins and Banias after the LJP leader highlighted his (Modi’s) humble origins, exhorting him to ensure that fruits of development reached all communities under his rule.

Rhetoric apart, the logic that guided Paswan to join the Modi bandwagon is ideology-free and has been tested before for short-term gains. It navigated the Samata Party (now JD-U), the Telegu Desam and the DMK at different stages in the eventful 1990s that witnessed three short-lived Congress-supported coalitions followed by the BJP-led NDA.

Political survival was the leitmotif of that decade of strange bedfellows and square pegs in round holes. The Samata did it in the name of fighting an ascendant Lalu Yadav in Bihar, the TDP to partake of the AB Vajpayee wave in coastal Andhra and Karunanidhi for picking up stakes in power at the centre after the failed United Front experiment.

Paswan himself was in the forefront of the game of expedience. He campaigned in Bihar in 2004 with an Osama-bin-Laden look-alike, drawing sharp reactions from the BJP-led Hindu right wing. One wonders what Modi’s take on it is.

vinodsharma@hindustantimes.com

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