The Congress appears to be in two minds on the issue of alliance in Bihar despite top leaders of the party having met both Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad and Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan in past weeks.
Sources say that while the predominant opinion of party leaders from Bihar is that it should ally with the RJD, some leaders close to Rahul Gandhi are wary of a Congress-RJD tie up after Prasad's conviction in the fodder scam case.
The second school is of the belief that the anti-corruption image being built around the Congress vice president after he junked the ordinance on convicted lawmakers, disapproved Maharashtra government's decision to reject a report on Adarsh scam that indicted Congress leaders and his strong pitch for creating a framework to fight corruption will suffer if it allies with Prasad.
The leaders believe that an alliance with the Janata Dal-United, which had broken ties from the Bharatiya Janata Party last June, is much more comfortable though many in the party are skeptical about the vote base of Nitish Kumar's party and its ability to transfer those votes.
"What will happen if we contest Lok Sabha elections on our own," quipped a senior All India Congress Committee functionary giving an impression that the party is yet to discard Rahul's go-alone pitch, which was also a factor for no alliance happening between the Congress and the RJD last time.
This section believes that the Congress, which had won two seats in Bihar in 2009 when it fought alone, may win three four more seats if it seals an alliance but then the long-term plan to build the party in the Hindi heartland will suffer. A number of Congress leaders in the past had blamed Congress' tie up with the RJD for the near decimation of the party in the state.
There is also a view in the party that aligning with either the JD-U or RJD may push the other party towards the Opposition be it the BJP or Third Front or some emerging new front.
Leaders of this viewpoint think that if the Congress does not ally with either then it will be in a better position to seek the support of both Prasad and Kumar in a post-poll scenario.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi met Paswan on Saturday.
Before that she had met Prasad on January 1. Prasad later also met Rahul.
Neither Paswan nor Prasad have been able to get any categorical commitment about the alliance though the Congress top leadership has indicated to both of them that the first priority of any political arrangement in the state is to stop the BJP and ensure formation of a secular government.
After meeting the Congress president on January 1, Prasad had said Gandhi told him that that she will meet him again on the issue of alliance. The meeting is yet to take place.
Paswan's LJP, which had fought the last Lok Sabha poll in alliance with the RJD, does not appear so keen on stitching an alliance with Prasad's party now and, if sources are to be believed, it has opened communication channels with the JD-U.
Though many believe that this is just bargaining tactics by the LJP as Paswan is miffed over some RJD leaders openly saying that his party should not be given more than three to four seats this time.
The LJP, which had contested the last Lok Sabha polls in alliance with the RJD had fought on eight seats in 2009 Lok Sabha elections. "The opinion of most LJP leaders is that the party enters into an alliance with the JD-U and tries to bring the Congress in as well. An alliance of the Congress-JDU and LJP is most formidable, as Nitish Kumar's party has made considerable inroads among the extremely backward castes and Mahadalits. Moreover, he has a clean image," an LJP functionary close to the party chief told PTI.
"With the Aam Aadmi Party phenomena having a bearing on the national mood, going with convicted Prasad's party could be damaging. Moreover, the RJD does not appear to be in a mood to shed its big brotherly attitude. Their leaders appear to have been left free to attack LJP. However, the party has left the final decision on Paswan," the functionary said.
Paswan is learnt to have explained these things to the Congress president. The LJP is also learnt to be of the view that even if an alliance with the RJD happens, Prasad should not be the central face of the Congress-RJD-LJP alliance.