It is a tantalizing puzzle. Why did Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) head Ram Vilas Paswan — sworn enemies for many years, though both of them supported the UPA government — decide to work out a seat arrangement in Bihar between themselves for the Lok Sabha election, jettisoning their common ally, which had given union ministerships, the Congress?
Was it because some bold initiatives by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s government were helping the Janata Dal(U)-BJP ruling combine make inroads into the backward caste and Dalit vote banks that Lalu and Paswan had been taking for granted? Is Paswan alarmed at Mayawati’s rising influence in Bihar? Or were Lalu and Paswan inspired by Mulayam Singh Yadav in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, who too, despite being a Congress ally, announced his candidates unilaterally?
Or is the apparent falling out with the Congress part of a grand strategy to divide upper caste vote, which would otherwise have gone entirely to the BJP? Once the campaign starts in full earnest, will the Congress and RJD go flat out against each other? Or will they pull their punches, engage in ‘friendly contests’, with both directing their attacks at the JD(U)-BJP combine?
A number of RJD high fliers, led by Lalu’s brother-in-law Anirudh Prasad alias Sadhu Yadav — once extremely close to the RJD chief, but now estranged — who have been denied tickets, have joined the Congress. Will the Congress give them the tickets the RJD denied them? If it does, how will long-term Congressmen, who may have hoped to get these seats, react?
For Lalu, there may have been another consideration. The JD(U) had already announced it would contest 25 of the 40 seats leaving the rest to the BJP. If the Congress had also been included in Lalu’s alliance, he could not have hoped to get 25 seats for his own party. Did he believe that this would have amounted to conceding was a bigger and more important party than his own?