With friends like Lalu Prasad, Congress needs no enemies

With friends like Lalu Prasad, Congress needs no enemies

Narendra Modi must be thanking his stars. For, what appeared a rough road to his success in Bihar has been smoothened in the last fortnight. However, for this cataclysmic change, he should also thank two persons from the bottom of his heart.

First, the man who persuaded Nitish not to join hands with the Congress. And, secondly Lalu Prasad, who is doing more harm to the Congress by stitching an alliance with the grand old party (compared to 2009 Lok Sabha polls when he damaged Congress by not joining hands with it).

That leaves the battle for triangular contest between the BJP, Nitish’s JD (U) and Lalu-led alliance (comprising RJD, Congress and NCP) wide open with the saffron camp having an edge. But first thing first.

Modi has to thank Nitish immensely. Had the JD(U) strongman not severed ties with the BJP last year, the saffron party today would have continued to play second fiddle to the whims and fancies of a regional satrap. Nine months after separation from the JD(U) in Bihar, the BJP has got ample time to resurrect its party structure, play the big brother role and stitch an alliance with small but important caste-based outfits (like Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party). Together these two parties - LJP and RLSP -  command 11 per cent votes of Paswans, Koeris and Kushwahas, which, if added to the BJP’s 16 per cent cadre votes, could be a formidable combination. Add to this the popular wave of Narendra Modi, which has dwarfed Nitish in his own fiefdom.

The second, and more important, factor is Lalu, who overtly or covertly has cut Congress to size, without offending its party high command. He may have left 12 seats out of 40 Lok Sabha constituencies in Bihar for the Congress. But he doled out such seats where Congress does not have remote possibility of winning. Take for example, Hajipur, Patna Sahib and Nalanda, the three seats in Congress quota. The grand old party does not have a candidate who can give a fight (forget defeating) to Ram Vilas Paswan in his bastion. Similar is the case with Patna Sahib where no one can throw a challenge to Shatrughan Sinha; or take the example of Nalanda where Congress does not exist, leave alone giving fight to Nitish’s nominee in CM’s home-turf.

The entire Congress-RJD alliance went for a toss the moment Paswan left the UPA to join the NDA bandwagon. Had the RJD-Cong-LJP-NCP combine formalised, it would have given sleepless nights to the BJP in general and Modi in particular. But Lalu, while maintaining his loyalty towards Sonia, has, in a deft move, made Congress redundant in Bihar. He ensured that the Bihar Congress president Ashok Choudhary was not given ticket from Jamui. Likewise, he ensured that at least four former State presidents of the party – Sadanand Singh, Mehboob Ali Kaisar, Shakeel Ahmad and Ramjatan Sinha – were denied tickets from Bhagalpur, Khagaria, Madhubani and Jehanabad respectively. Notably, out of these four heavyweight Congressmen, at least three could have romped home had the alliance formula been chalked out meticulously.

Misled by the trusted

But in hindsight, it now appears Bihar is no more on Rahul Gandhi’s radar. Or alternately, he was misled by his trusted man (in-charge of Bihar affairs) – CP Joshi. Whatever may be the case, with friends like Lalu, Congress needs no enemies. His (Lalu) supporters may not be abusing Congress in public, but deep within their heart they squarely hold Rahul responsible for Lalu’s incarceration, which eventually debarred the RJD chief from contesting the elections. It remains to be seen whether under such heavy antipathy for Rahul, Lalu’s support base - Muslims (17 per cent) and Yadavs (16 per cent) would back Congress, which has an eight per cent votes on its own across the State.

With a weakened rival like Lalu-led alliance, Modi is not much worried about an isolated Nitish, who for the first time claimed that he was not averse to becoming the Prime Minister (should a situation so arise), as he was more competent than many of those who were eyeing the country’s top executive post. However, deep within, he too knows that given the numerical strength of Lok Sabha MPs from Bihar, it seems a far-fetched dream.

But since the people in Bihar had been clamouring that they would vote for Modi as he is the PM candidate (and for Nitish when it comes to Assembly polls), Nitish has thrown his hat in the ring to thwart Modi’s calculations.

“If a person (read: NaMo), who has not been elected to Parliament even once, can aspire to become PM, why not me. I have more experience as I have been Union Minister as well as Chief Minister,” Nitish told a gathering, while at the same time took a dig at Rahul too, who, he said, had neither been a minister at the Centre nor has any experience in running the State.

Notwithstanding all these rhetorics, the voters in Bihar usually go by caste combination (and candidate’s credentials too), rather than development work undertaken by the ruling party. But Nitish is hopeful that when the results would come on May 16, “all political pundits would be proved wrong and the BJP will get the biggest jolt of its life.”

If that really happens (which has remote possibility), then it will be proved beyond doubt that electors in this part of the cow-belt have matured over time and voted for development. But as of now, the die has been cast(e).

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