Congress may yet choose Lalu over Nitish for alliance in Bihar

More than six months back, Union finance minister P Chidambaram was in Nalanda on an official visit to Bihar. After he finished his meetings there, he was informed that the helicopter that was to take him to Patna at 1 pm had been grounded. Reason: The four-seater chopper, hired by the Bihar government, could not take off due to ‘deep discharge’ of the battery since the helicopter remained stationary in the sun for a long time.

Nitish Kumar, who was also present, offered to take him by road to Patna in the chief minister’s car. Chidambaram did not throw any tantrums and took the two-hour, 100-km-long arduous road journey in the company of Nitish. Chidambaram managed to reach Patna just about in time for him to take his flight back to Delhi.

It is believed in the political circles that it was this two-hour journey together which bonded the two leaders so well that the seeds of an alliance between the Congress and the Janata Dal (United) were sown. This was in May 2013 and the JD (U)-BJP were still running a coalition government then.

The following month Nitish snapped his 17-year-old ties with the BJP, giving credence to the theory that the JD (U) strongman, then riding high on his popularity, was gradually inching closer towards the grand old party.

Seven months down the line, the bonhomie between the two parties seems to have gone for a toss. Having fared badly in the four states of Hindi heartland, Congress has become a pariah for the JD(U). Nitish is believed to have serious reservations now about entering into a tie-up with a party which is not only scam-tainted but faces huge anti-incumbency factor.

His aides in private confirm that Nitish’s disenchantment with the Congress grew after the Centre ‘betrayed’ him over granting special status to Bihar, a demand which the JD(U) strongman had been vociferously raising for quite some time.

The Congress has its own reasons for disillusionment with Nitish. The serial blasts in Bodh Gaya, followed by mid-day meal tragedy in Saran in which several children lost their lives, showed Nitish in poor light and raised a question mark over his credo of good governance. His refusal to meet the children in hospitals where they were recuperating from food poisoning or his unavailability when the bodies of martyrs (who lost their lives while fighting Pakistani moles in Jammu-Kashmir) were flown to Bihar, showed his indifferent attitude, a characteristic not witnessed during his previous stint.
To make matter worse, the serial bomb blasts during Narendra Modi’s rally in Patna brought down his popularity graph steeply. His refusal to acknowledge poor security arrangements for his bête noire further eroded his credibility as an administrator.

Integral part

Amid all these love-hate stories between the two parties, another important development took place during the intervening period. One of the Congress’ staunchest allies Lalu Prasad was incarcerated for his involvement in fodder scam. Marginalised over the years after he lost power in Bihar since 2005, Lalu had been pressing for an alliance with the Congress on the pattern of 2004 Lok Sabha elections in which LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan was also an integral part of the pre-poll pact.

Contrary to general perception, Lalu’s graph has risen enormously since he was put behind the bars. This was in sharp contrast to Nitish’s own image which took a beating after he severed his ties with the BJP followed by one mishap after another.

The fast changing political scenario puzzled the Congress leadership too. While one section led by party vice president Rahul Gandhi wanted a tacit understanding with ‘workohlic’ Nitish, the other faction (which reportedly enjoys the backing of Sonia Gandhi) favours an alliance with time-tested ally Lalu Prasad and Paswan. “When it comes to loyalty, Lalu remains unmatched. He has stood by Soniaji through thick and thin, unlike Nitish who neither stood by George Fernandes nor the BJP,” remarked a senior Congress leader, citing the vote percentage of three parties combined together. “If Congress, RJD and the LJP contest together under one umbrella, we can give Modi’s BJP a run for its money. The JD(U) will be the biggest loser if it contests alone. The situation will reverse if no alliance takes place. The BJP will be the biggest gainer if there is multi-cornered contest in the 40 Lok Sabha constituencies,” the Congress leader averred.

Aware of the repercussions of going it alone, Nitish is still not showing that he is worried. “The JD(U) is prepared to go it alone. However, we can still enter into an alliance with the Congress only if it facilitates special status category to Bihar,” said one of Nitish’s key aides.

But as of now, Congress remains non-committal on either special status or its alliance partner. After all, Lalu Prasad has been granted bail in the fodder scam case and he can be expected to become active before Lok Sabha polls. The Congress would now like to make a fresh assessment of the electoral arithmetic before announcing any poll pact. Till then, the political scenario remains as hazy as ever.

Comments (+)