Lalu mending fences with Mulayam, Paswan
Amid persistent speculation about early Lok Sabha elections, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad is ready to bury the hatchet with two long-time friends who later turned bitter foes.
Eager to consolidate its vote bank even as the Congress party increasingly finds the going tough, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader is reaching out to Steel Minister Ramvilas Paswan and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav.
MPs from both RJD and Samajwadi Party admit that their top leaders are coming together but no one is willing to speak on record. But there are plenty of signs of the growing bonhomie among Lalu Prasad, Paswan and Mulayam Singh - three men who were not even on talking terms until recently.
Paswan, whose feud with Lalu Prasad turned into war after the latter insisted on becoming the railway minister in 2004, is ready to forget and forgive.
And, it appears, so is Mulayam Singh Yadav. Lalu Prasad, his base in Bihar facing a major threat from Nitish Kumar and a rejuvenated Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is more than willing.
Referring to meetings among the three men, A Samajwadi Party MP told IANS: "What's wrong with social courtesies? It is a good thing."
Lalu Prasad has decided not to field an RJD nominee for a Rajya Sabha seat that fell vacant following the death of party MP Motiur Rahman. Instead, he will support Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) candidate Sabir Ali. On his part, Paswan has fielded Ali and not Lalu Prasad's bete noire, Ranjan Prasad, the earlier favoured candidate.
Lalu Prasad has also been regularly having tete-tete with Ram Gopal Yadav, Mulayam Singh's brother, in the Central Hall of parliament. Gopal Yadav is the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister's acknowledged Man Friday besides Amar Singh.
The changing equations come at a time when the Congress' electoral fortunes have taken a hit. The Congress was routed in Gujarat and lost decisively to the BJP in Himachal Pradesh too. Congress partners are naturally worried, what with persistent talk of a snap parliamentary poll.
Supporters of Mulayam Singh, Paswan and Lalu Prasad say that a consolidation of their support base can cause havoc - to their foes.
A RJD MP who also did not speak on record said: "Nothing will happen just now. The changing equations will have no impact in the immediate future. But in the long run, whenever all of us have come together, we have defeated everybody."
Mulayam Singh, Paswan and Lalu Prasad consider themselves as socialists. The latter two were comrades during the tumultuous student politics of the 1970s in Bihar.
At one time, all of them were members of the Janata Party and the later Janata Dal - until the Janata experiment collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions.
Some sources insist that the coming together of Lalu Prasad and Paswan is to be credited mainly to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who had carefully cultivated a broad coalition that took on and defeated the BJP in 2004.
That alliance, later named the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), has begun to crack.
So is Gandhi playing a key role? An RJD MP answered: "We also hear these things. We are not taken along for the meetings of the big leaders. How would we know?"