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HindustanTimes Thu,31 Jul 2014

Lalu's jail yatra attracts sympathy, hits Nitish hard

Aurangzeb Naqshbandi, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, October 09, 2013
First Published: 01:01 IST(9/10/2013) | Last Updated: 10:41 IST(9/10/2013)

In 2009, the Bihar Congress sang the ‘ekala chalo’ (go it alone) tune following RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s refusal to give the party, then a UPA ally, more than four seats to contest from in Bihar in the Lok Sabha elections that year.

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But four years later the party is divided over its course of action because apart from the RJD, which is now giving the UPA outside support, the Congress now has Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) on its plate.

Over the years, the Congress has been reduced to a marginal force in Bihar. It could win just two out of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state in the 2009 polls and only four of the 243 seats in the 2010 assembly elections.

But recent political developments, such as the JD (U) snapping its 17-year-old ties with the BJP and Prasad’s conviction in the fodder scam, have brought the Congress back in demand in state politics.

Political observers are of the view that the Congress is in a win-win situation and the alliance it will form is likely to emerge strong in the next general elections.

There is one section in the state Congress that still favours the go-it-alone policy and suggests that the party should consider only a post-poll alliance.

“The recent events have given us a great opportunity ... If we proceed in a planned manner, there could be unexpected results in our favour in 2014 polls,” said former Bihar Congress president Anil Sharma. Senior leader Kishore Kumar Jha agreed with him.

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The one question that a large number of Congress leaders encounter these days is whether Prasad’s conviction has brought their party close to the JD(U). Many argue it’s too early to say that.

The anti-Lalu camp in the Bihar Congress suggests that Rahul Gandhi’s strong opposition to the ordinance that sought to protect convicted lawmakers from immediate disqualification and Nitish Kumar’s subsequent support for him were a clear indication of which way the wind is going to blow.

But another section maintains all is not over between the RJD and the Congress.

Congress sources also point out that party chief Sonia Gandhi remains inclined towards the RJD, for it was Prasad who first defended her on the foreign origin issue, though Rahul Gandhi is tilted more in favour of the JD(U).

The pro-Lalu group argues there has been a surge in the RJD chief’s popularity in the past few years and cite the party’s huge win in Maharajganj Lok Sabha byelection in June as an example of that.

“Post-conviction, there could be crystallisation of the RJD’s support base,” said another former Bihar Congress chief, Mehboob Ali Qaiser.

Also, Congress leaders have maintained that after the JD(U)-BJP break-up, the lethal combination of non-Yadav OBCs and upper castes, which had helped Kumar capture and retain power in Bihar in last two elections, no longer exists.

On the other hand, they argue that the RJD, with the old Muslim-Yadav combination, has a strong chance of bouncing back in Bihar politics. This section is also of the view that an alliance between the RJD, Congress and Lok Janashakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan will be a formidable one and could even better its 2004 performance. The three parties together then had won 32 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar.


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