RJD all set to take on NDA
Having cobbled an anti-NDA alliance in Bihar, the ruling RJD, rattled by a string of resignations, including those by three ministers in the Rabri Devi government and two sitting MPs, is bracing for a spirited fight against the NDA in the parliamentary poll.
The party had put up an embarrassing performance in the 1999 elections when it managed to win only six of the 40 seats in the state.
Putting up candidates in 32 constituencies in alliance with the Congress and Left parties, the RJD had won only six seats, finished second in 25 and a poor third in one, polling around 34 per cent votes.
The NDA, on the other hand, had pocketed 42 per cent votes with 30 seats in its kitty.
Laloo Prasad Yadav's RJD has this time formalised an alliance and is fielding candidates in 26 seats, leaving eight to Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party, four to Congress and one each to NCP and CPI-M.
The RJD, formed after the 1996 LS polls following a bitter power struggle between the Janata Dal president, Sharad Yadav, and Laloo, had in 1998 won 17 seats despite having polled only 27 per cent votes, largely due to split in the anti-RJD votes. The party nominees had finished second in 18 places and third in three.
In the elections for the 13th Lok Sabha in 1999, the RJD fielded 32 candidates of whom only six won and in straight contest with NDA, its nominees finished second in 25 seats.
However, LJP, which was with the NDA in 1999 and had won two seats, is now a constituent of the RJD-led secular alliance and RJD's hopes of a turnaround largely hinge, apart from its Muslim-Yadav votebank, on the Dalits--the mainstay of Paswan's party.
Despite the formalisation of the secular alliance, a major problem facing the RJD is the resentment in the Congress over the pittance it got as part of the seat-sharing formula.
So evident is the bitterness that not a single Congress leader, not even its state chief Ramjatan Sinha, was present when Laloo and Paswan announced formalisation of the secular alliance on March 27.
While allotting four seats to Congress, Laloo told a press conference that he had been authorised by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and general secretary in-charge of Bihar RK Dhavan to make the announcement.
That the acrimony has struck deep was clear one again when a sulking Sinha denied that Yadav had been authorised by the Congress high command to announce the seats the party would contest. Laloo struck back saying the BPCC chief had been cut down to size by his own leadership.
Another stumbling block in RJD's quest for electoral success is a revolt of sorts in the party with three members of the Rabri Devi government, including two Dalits and a Muslim, apart from two sitting members of the dissolved Lok Sabha, a Muslim and a Dalit, resigning.
Another member of the Rabri government, Dadan Singh, Minister of State for Commercial Taxes, was dismissed for contesting against the party's official nominee in Buxar.
While Purnamasi Ram, a Dalit member of the Rabri Cabinet, is contesting from Bagaha (SC) seat on a BSP ticket, Chedi Paswan, another Dalit minister who quit, is JD (U) nominee for Hajipur against Ramvilas Paswan. Monazir Hassan, Minister of State for Art, Culture and Youth Affairs is likely to be JD (U) candidate from Munger.
RJD MPs Sukhdeo Paswan and Anwarul Haq, who quit the party ahead of the elections, are BJP nominees for Araria and Sheohar.
Though the RJD supremo dismisses them as "political midgets" and "opportunists" whose defections would have no bearing on the electoral prospects of his party, political observers feel the desertions did not augur well for RJD as it brought into public glare its internal differences at a crucial time.
Apart from these hurdles, the RJD is the butt of NDA criticism for the alleged crime spiral and lack of development during the nearly 14 years of the Laloo-Rabri regime.
Lawlessness has touched a new high with entrepreneurs migrating to other states and kidnapping for ransom assuming ominous proportions. The man in the street wonders if he will be able to reach home from his place of work in the evening safely, BJP legislature party leader Sushil Kumar Modi said.
Laloo, however, dismissed the charge as election rhetoric and claimed law and order in Bihar was better than many developed states and blamed the NDA government at the Centre for lack of development accusing it of having acted miserly in allotting funds to Bihar.