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Bihar campaigning begins, alliances uncertain
September 14, 2005 10:57 IST
The uncertainty over Bihar assembly elections has made leaders of the major contenders to power - National Democratic Alliance, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Lok Janshakti Party - plunge headlong into electioneering though the anti-NDA coalitions are still nebulous.
The uncertain fate of the petitions pending before the Supreme Court, challenging the dissolution of the Assembly has not shackled the key players in the electoral arena, who have launched a string of yatras to mobilise voters.
Thus, the battle for Bihar has already begun, much before the election process formally gets underway with the issue of notification on September 23, for the first phase of poll to be held on October 18.
The NDA, led by Janata Dal (United)'s Nitish Kumar, which failed to form a government after the February assembly elections, was first to start. The alliance constituents, JD(U) and BJP, launched their nyay yatra in July, two months before fresh elections were announced. The two parties fought the last polls in complete alliance, winning 92 of the 243 seats in the state assembly.
LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan, dubbed as villain for his role in thwarting government formation, which ultimately led to the dissolution of the house, has hit the campaign trail with a vengeance, defying a heart ailment, which had confined him to bed after the last polls.
Despite being jettisoned by the Congress, which has made its preference for RJD clear, Paswan remains unruffled and is busy with the task of cobbling together a Third Front with the left parties. He has also been holding a series of public meetings during his party's sadbhavna yatra.
For RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, the man whose 15-year unbroken stint in power, ended with the February elections and a hung house, has embarked on a sankalp yatra to redeem his pre-eminence in Bihar.
Barring the NDA, all other coalitions are yet to acquire a final shape. Though the Congress, which had entered into half-baked alliances with LJP and RJD in the last polls, has declared its intention to go along with the latter, the number of seats it will contest is not yet clear. The Congress, which had fought 84 seats last time, was supported by RJD in just 11 seats.
Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party, having little at stake in Bihar, is engaged in talks with RJD, Congress and Communist Party of India-Marxist. The party had fielded its nominees in 31 constituencies in the February polls, after RJD left only three seats for it.
Interestingly, NCP lost all the seats where RJD lent support to it but won three others fighting against RJD. The CPI-M, which had fought 12 seats in complete alliance with RJD and won just one, according to observers, would settle for whatever seats it gets as per the seat-sharing formula. The party has only a symbolic presence in Bihar.
Though All India Congress Committee general secretary in-charge of Bihar, Digvijay Singh, asserts that RJD, Congress, NCP and CPI-M would enter the fray in 'complete alliance' with a common manifesto and joint campaigning, observers feel that given their intra-party pressures for greater space, a total alliance may elude them.
On the other hand, Paswan, deserted first by his 18 MLAs and now the Congress, has found a new ally in Communist Party of India, once a formidable force in Bihar. CPI general secretary A B Bardhan and secretary D Raja, are his chief interlocutors for talks with other left parties. They had previously stoutly defended Paswan against Congress' 'threats and ultimatum' in the wake of Lalu's demand for the dalit leader's ouster from the Centre's ruling coalition if he did not fall in line and join the RJD-led UPA in Bihar
The CPI, which was in search of a leader with a mass base after falling out with Lalu, has got in Paswan, somebody who could help it regain lost ground. The LJP president's dalit tag is an added advantage. Though LJP is engaged in talks with CPI and through it with CPI-ML, RSP and Forward Bloc for quite some time, a mutually acceptable seat-sharing formula is yet to come.
CPI-ML, which through sustained peasants' and workers' struggles, has replaced CPI as the chief left party in the state, has announced its willingness to join hands with Paswan but on the condition that he snap ties with the Congress. Its state secretary, Ramjatan Sharma, had expressed displeasure over Paswan's unilateral decision not to field candidates against Congress in constituencies, which it had won in the February polls saying, 'this amounts to indirectly supporting Lalu Prasad and his RJD'.
Observers feel that given Paswan's disinclination to quit the Congress-led UPA government, he would fight shy of directly attacking the Congress and, in such a situation, the Third Front would remain a pipe dream. Sources in LJP and CPI, however, are optimistic about a broad-based seat-sharing formula still materialising if not a full-fledged third front.