Suddenly, the United Progressive Alliance doesn’t look too united anymore. With Lalu Prasad Yadav doing a ‘Naveen Patnaik’ on the Congress in Bihar, political pundits are already cawing about the ‘great UPA betrayal’. But before one gets carried away by Mr Yadav’s new arrangement with Ram Vilas Paswan — divvying up 37 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar between the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) — it would be wise not to fall for the optical illusion of treating parties going into the April polls only as parts of collective entities and
not as fully fledged aspirants in the game. With the Congress having decided to go into the elections without any pre-poll tie-up with any of its UPA allies, it would have been silly not to expect a ‘defiant’ reaction from the likes of regional satraps like Mr Yadav.
That the off-and-on-and-off alliance with the Samajwadi Party hasn’t really helped the Congress to firm up its poll chances in Uttar Pradesh is obvious. Perhaps, the party was more oblivious of the fact that the RJD-LJP in Bihar and the SP in UP are in a position to call the shots about seat-sharing because, well, the latter happen to have firmer links with the state’s electorate, not the Congress. Being at the receiving end of such a ‘surprise’ was always the risk in the ‘go it alone’ strategy of the Congress. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the Grand Old Party is not being hoodwinked by its regional allies; it is simply being given a reality check that has already been measured by past performances and its current winnability quotient. If there is a downside to the Congress being doled out electoral crumbs in such a public manner, it is that of providing others — like the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra, for instance — the notion that this is a good time to haggle with the Congress.
The Congress, being in denial about the necessities of playing second fiddle to regional parties, has become a sitting duck for the kind of ‘shock’ that Messrs Yadav and Paswan delivered on Tuesday. But does it really matter? For in the end, whether you’re the Congress or the LJP, you’ll be bound to reach out and make friends after the polls, if not before. The only casualty now will be a well-fed ego.