The events in Bihar on Monday and Tuesday — that of 13 MLAs of the RJD leaving the party to join the JD(U) and nine of them returning later at the time of going to press — only serve to illustrate how topsy-turvy the situation is in the state now, with hardly two months remaining for the Lok Sabha polls. And such a fluid situation can hurt the weaker players the most.
Not being able to pursue a clear course till now may cost the Congress, a weak player, dearly in Bihar, where it has been out of power since 1990. Indifference to the task of building the party and the inability to create a second line of leadership after the 1980s generation of leaders had burnt themselves out have pushed the Congress to the very margin of survival in Bihar.
The way the Bihar situation was unfolding eight months ago presented a good opportunity to the Congress as the ruling party, the JD(U), was seen warming up to it on the issue of granting ‘special status’ to the state on the basis of the Raghuram Rajan committee report. And this occurred precisely at the time when the JD(U) had split with the BJP. But with ‘special status on backwardness parameters’ not coming through immediately, the JD(U) has turned its back on the Congress.
But Lalu Prasad’s sentencing and his subsequent release changed the political equations as the RJD leader, who in 2009 questioned whether there was at all a Congress unit in Bihar, extended his hand of friendship towards the Congress. After all it was the Congress that, in a way, revived Mr Prasad’s career in 2000 by lending support to the RJD after the assembly polls when he was hemmed in by the fodder scam and the defeat in the Lok Sabha election in 1999.
But it is a remote possibility that the 2004 alliance of the RJD, Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and the Congress can be revived. Failure to do this had left the field open for a near sweep in 2009 by the BJP-JD(U) combine, the alliance that also scored a resounding victory in the 2010 assembly polls.
Though the LJP on its own cannot do much, tying up with the BJP can create a difference in 16 of the 40 seats in the state because of Mr Paswan’s powerful hold on the extremely backward classes. This is a prospect the Congress dreads because it will bring Narendra Modi within striking distance of prime ministership. The Rashtriya Loktantrik Samta Party, a small outfit of the Koeris, has already made a deal with the BJP. In such a situation the least the Congress could do for its survival is to strike an alliance with the RJD.