After grandly kicking the BJP, Nitish clueless about other options

After grandly kicking the BJP, Nitish clueless about other options

With barely a week left before JD(U) strongman Nitish Kumar takes a call on whether he would like to go it alone or enter into an alliance with like-minded parties in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, all eyes will be on the party’s ‘chintan shivir’ he has convened at the picturesque Rajgir in Bihar.

The timing of this meet assumes significance as it is being held a day after BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi kick-starts his campaign in Patna on October 27 from the same historic Gandhi Maidan from where Jayaprakash Narayan gave a call for Sampoorna Kranti to uproot Indira Gandhi’s regime.

Touted to be BJP’s biggest show of strength ever since the JD (U) severed ties with the saffron party in June this year, the Hoonkar rally is expected to pose a fresh challenge to Nitish who is likely to come under severe attack by his erstwhile alliance partner for calling off the 17-year-old ties simply because of his ‘personal ego’. Having made up its mind to expose Nitish, the BJP, in all likelihood, will shout from the rooftop that the people of Bihar had given a massive four-fifth majority to the JD (U)-BJP combine but Nitish betrayed the mandate in the same way as he betrayed his mentor George Fernandes.

When it comes to ‘loyalty quotient’, Nitish’s arch-rival in the state -- Lalu Prasad – remains more reliable. Despite being incarcerated in the fodder scam and losing his Lok Sabha membership ever since Congress heir apparent Rahul Gandhi took a stand on the controversial Ordinance which would have protected tainted leaders, Lalu has issued strict instructions to his family members, senior party leaders and cadres not to utter a single word against Congress or its leadership.

The maverick leader that he is, Lalu knows for sure that if at all anyone could bail him out of the present mess, it is the Congress high command. And the first sign of his optimism came in the form of unscheduled visit by Abhijit Mukherjee, son of president Pranab Mukherjee and Congress MP from Jangipur in West Bengal.

Abhijit met Lalu at the Birsa Munda Jail in Ranchi, where both held parleys for nearly 20 minutes. The meeting assumes significance as Abhijit is neither very senior Congress leader nor a childhood friend of Lalu. Still he went (or was sent, as you interpret) to meet the disgraced leader apparently to reassure the jailed leader that all is not lost for Lalu after the lower court verdict. Had any senior Congress leader like Kapil Sibal (who was earlier Lalu’s lawyer too) been despatched to Ranchi to meet Lalu, the BJP would have got a fresh ammunition to launch an onslaught on the grand old party.

Changing political scene

But then, the Congress, which is rudderless in Bihar and needs to ride piggyback either on Lalu or Nitish, has been quick to read the fast changing political scene in this part of the cow-belt. The Congress mandarins, who had earlier booked a honeymoon suite for Nitish, are now having second thoughts on even entering into matrimony with the JD (U). Reason: Nitish’s fast depleting electoral fortunes and, in contrast, equally sharp rising stock of Lalu following his incarceration.

Lalu’s committed voters – his fellow brethren Yadavs constitute nearly 12 per cent of the electoral strength (compared to Nitish’s miniscule three per cent Kurmis). The Yadavs even today do not believe that their leader is guilty in the fodder scam and will root for him more aggressively.

“If the Congress, RJD and the LJP join hands, the 17 per cent Muslims, (along with 12 per cent Yadavs) in Bihar will this time vote for those who can defeat Narendra Modi’s candidates. After all, they feel that it was the BJP leader Sushil Modi (who filed a PIL in fodder scam) and Ravi Shankar Prasad (then a Patna High Court lawyer who argued the case on Modi’s behalf) who are primarily responsible for Lalu’s incarceration,” said a former Bihar Congress president.

“In the 2010 Assembly polls, Lalu got 19 per cent votes but barely 22 seats, while the BJP which fetched 16 per cent votes got an all-time high 91 seats. This was precisely because the BJP was in alliance with the JD-U, which polled 23 per cent votes, (hardly four pc more than Lalu) but won 115 seats. Had the RJD and LJP contested in alliance with the Congress, the scene would have been diametrically opposite,” argued the Congress leader.

“Nitish has actually been trapped in his own web. He initially batted for Advani at the behest of BJP patriarch and his close associates Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. The latter two switched sides after reading the writing on the wall. Advani was left high and dry after being marginalised in the party which he built brick by brick. And so was Nitish, whose calculations went awry after Advani’s isolation,” said the leader.

“The Congress, too, held out an olive branch to Nitish in the form of ‘special status’ but that too is unlikely to materialise after the Raghuram Rajan panel recommended that there should not be any such term called ‘special status’. Checkmated, Nitish now just does not know where to look,” averred the Congressman.

Little wonder, soon after the JD(U) chintan shivir at Rajgir, Nitish will fly to Delhi to attend the October 30 rally being organised by Mulayam and Prakash Karat - the proponents of the fledgling Third Front. This will be Nitish’s terse message to Congress: “If not the BJP or Congress, then there is a third option too.”

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