Lalu Prasad’s imminent release from jail is bad news for Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Lok Sabha dreams.
After the JD(U) and the BJP ended their 17-year-long alliance as NDA partners in June this year, both had hedged on breaking the RJD.
They had aimed at wooing “enough number of winnable candidates” before the polls in 2014.
The parties had bargained on the RJD falling apart after Lalu's imprisonment and hoped that a frustrated RJD rank and file would be easy pick.
Contrary to their estimation, the jail sentence only enhanced the sympathy for Lalu.
Also, the RJD not only stood firm but put in place a system of governance through a committee of stalwarts to run the party in consultation with its jailed chief.
JD(U) leader Shivanand Tiwari and BJP leader Saryu Roy believe Lalu's release will not affect their parties much.
“Even criminals get bail,” Tiwari said.
Both BJP and JD(U) refrained from making adverse comments on Lalu after his conviction, as they did not want to annoy Yadav community that makes up 15% of the Bihar electorate.
Still, a Lalu in jail made a better electoral prospect for Nitish who is eyeing Lalu’s steadfast Muslim votes, about 13% of the electorate.
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The BJP on the other hand had figured that a fractured LS mandate could be avoided in Bihar by wooing Yadavs and by reserving comments on Lalu's plight.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi had at his Patna rally on October 27 gone all out to suggest a special space in Gujarat for Yadavs, hinting Lord Krishna had made Dwarka his home.
Lalu being sprung from jail, now adds to the political worries and uncertainties of both the parties, given that the electorate is wholly unsettled, as of now.
Recent surveys in Bihar have shown a majority of the state’s electorate blames Nitish for the split with the BJP over Modi’s PM candidature. In such a situation, Muslim support is critical to JD-U to match up with the BJP surge.
The feeling in political circles here is that the JD-U cannot rely on Muslims joining it wholly, especially when the party is not aligned to a nationally relevant political platform that can take on the BJP.
An alliance with the Congress that can enable the JD(U) to take on the BJP also looks a distant possibility because Nitish has made special status for Bihar a pre-condition for such an alliance.
This Congress-Nitish stand-off has firmly brought back RJD into the picture, especially when the Congress appeared to be keeping it on the sidelines while courting Nitish.
The results of four assembly elections has Congress on the back foot and poses a problem for Nitish, who cannot afford an anti-Congress sentiment to work against him also in the event of a tie-up.
The RJD thus looks surer to cash in on the situation and re-stitch an alliance, the failure of which had unseated it in 2005 by a narrow margin, allowing the JD-U to come to power.
By going alone, Nitish's JD(U) cannot hope to garner the vote share of 2005 or even 2009 post the split. And though his own caste and a sprinkling of EBC's and Dalits stand firm, a non-committal Muslim electorate makes for a tight race.
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JD(U) leader, Shivanand Tiwari and Samata Party leader PK Sinha agree that the party needs to be seen on a larger and national bandwagon to be successful in stopping the BJP.
While a “Third Front” comprising regional parties does not aid JD(U)'s Bihar campaign, a Congress-JD(U) tie-up could have drawn Muslims and split the upper castes enough to achieve a small advantage.
Lalu's freedom thus challenges all formations.
For one, it will stop the expected desertion from the Yadav and Muslim ranks to the BJP and others. A Congress-RJD-LJP alliance can win more seats in an election in which the minority vote will be more concerned with Modi and Delhi than local issues.
Last time, the combined NDA got only 37% of the votes. The Muslim-Yadav combination makes up for 28%.
The RJD had, minus the Congress, garnered 19% of votes, marginally less than JD(U)'s 22%. The Congress bagged 11% and the LJP 4%. Add that, and a seat stalemate at LS polls is almost sure, with the RJD in advantage.
RJD leader, Prabhunath Singh, who trumped the JD(U) candidate PK Shahi by 1.39 lakh votes in the Maharajganj parliamentary by-election, believes “the RJD is in with a bang".
He said Lalu’s release would most certainly buoy up his constituency of Muslims, Yadavs, Dalits and Rajputs.