The Bihar mahagathbandan has finally taken shape, though just 19 days before the first phase of polling. The tug-of-war over seats took so inordinately long that everyone started saying all was not well between the RJD and the Congress. The 20/9 seat division puts that speculation to rest, but the Congress hardly got time to breathe a sigh of relief.
Soon, it was battling sudden rumours about Jitin Prasada. A friend of party chief Rahul Gandhi—indeed, the one who formally proposed his name for presidentship—the young UP leader was, startlingly enough, being tipped as the latest ‘convert’ to the BJP. Prasada, who was on the Congress first list, brushed off the speculation (only as ‘hypothetical’) but it seems to have taken hectic rearguard action to stop him from defecting.
If one close associate was about to ditch Rahul, another one, paradropping from the US, has carelessly elbowed him into a ditch. Technocrat Sam Pitroda, the old Rajiv Gandhi favourite credited with India’s telecom revolution, waded into unfamiliar waters with a rather gratuitous, dovish comment on Balakot. Handing a stick to the BJP to beat the Congress with, Pitroda thus revived the dissipating embers of the war frenzy that had benefited the BJP.
Needless to say, reports in the Washington Post and the New York Times are not exactly in sync with the public mood and harping on the question of ‘how many dead’ had done the Congress no good. And Pitroda rushed in just as the public was showing signs of moving on from national security to bread-and-butter issues. No such luck now. No less than the prime minister found it apt to put out tweets decrying the ‘apologists of terrorists’. Congress’s protestations that Pitroda is not a party member cut no ice. Loose talk and faux pas have cost it quite a few contests with Modi, but the GOP is clearly a slow learner.