Lalu in jail, Congress won't dance with Nitish. Not yet. - The New Indian Express

Lalu in jail, Congress won't dance with Nitish. Not yet.

Published: 13th Oct 2013 08:44:52 AM

Political realignments caused by RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s incarceration in the fodder scam case are in a state of flux as all players are reformulating their strategy before the 2014 parliamentary elections. The Congress, which initially seemed to have booked the honeymoon suite for Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) isn’t so sure about checking in. Lalu’s continuing relevance in state politics indicated by a groundswell of sympathy among caste and cadres is behind this change. Even in the worst electoral drubbing it received in the last Assembly polls, the Yadav maverick captured about 19 per cent of the popular vote—hardly four per cent lower than that of the ruling party. The Congress isn’t sure these votes are open for the grab for other political parties. It feels a further consolidation of this percentage could be possible if the sympathy wave in favour of Lalu grows stronger.

Even Lalu’s arch political rival and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said,” it’s too early to write his political obituary”. Perhaps this is the reason that no political party in the state is in celebration mode—not even Lalu’s hardcore political opponents.

The Congress faces the largest dilemma. It had laid the ground, with dole and dangling the special status carrot for a partnership with Nitish Kumar after he fell out with the BJP in the state over Narendra Modi. But the JD(U) is hopeful. Rajya Sabha member and senior JD(U) leader Shivanand Tiwari said that his party should enter into an alliance with the Congress for the coming Lok Sabha election “in the larger interest of Bihar”.  However, he hastened to add that this is his personal opinion and it is the party which would take final decision at its Chintan Shivir in Rajgir later this month.

In turn, Nitish Kumar had been playing coy about the possibility of future alliance with Congress. Giving a strong signal that it still considered the RJD a loyal ally, the party had dispatched its emissary, Jangipur MP, Abhijit Mukherjee—President Pranab Mukherjee’s son—to meet Lalu in Birsa Munda Central Jail in Ranchi a few days back.

“We will go to the people and let them know about the failure of JDU government as our political plank,” said state congress President Ashok Chaudhary. He also refrained from taking credit for Lalu’s imprionment, indirectly caused by Rahul Gandhi’s attack that forced the government to jettison the ordinance saving convicted MPs. “The fodder scam judgment is a result of the judicial process and we don’t think it is appropriate to comment,” said Congress’ spokesperson Prem Chandra Mishra.

Political observers feel that the Congress had a role to play in breaking the NDA in Bihar by dangling a carrot for Nitish. It is still in a wait-and-watch mode, assessing how the people of Bihar would react to the CM dumping the BJP with whose help the JD(U) got a ¾th majority in the assembly election. A large section of Yadav voters, who constitute about 11 per cent of the electorate are still loyal to Lalu. So are a big chunk of OBC (other backward castes) voters, who feel that though he failed to give economic empowerment, Lalu ensured their social empowerment say sources. A reorganization of backward castes under the RJD umbrella could change the political arithmetic in Bihar. The Congress hopes it can cash in on this calculation after its poor showing in the state that sends 40 MPs to the parliament. 

The JDU meanwhile, is exploring new pastures with forming a Third Front, which sources say is a strategy to signal the Congress that it has other options. It seems that the Congress would be fighting the next general elections from both within and outside jail.

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