With less than two months to go for the Lok Sabha election, the expected process of political realignments has begun, reports Anita Katyal.
First off the block, Bihar was in the thick of feverish political activity with reports coming in that former Union minister and Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan is close to sealing a deal with the Bharatiya Janata Party while the Rashtriya Janata Dal's Lalu Prasad Yadav got a jolt on Monday when seven RJD legislators crossed over to the ruling Janata Dal-United.
These twin developments have dealt a blow to the Congress which was in the process of finalising a seat-sharing pact with the RJD and the LJP in Bihar for the forthcoming general election.
Although it has a negligible support base in Bihar, the Congress had calculated that a partnership with Lalu Yadav and Paswan would give this alliance an edge in the election as the Yadavs, the Muslims, a section of the Dalits and the upper castes would then converge towards it.
However, a predatory BJP and Janata Dal-U are making life difficult for the Congress and the RJD.
The political chess game being played out in Bihar is not wholly unexpected.
Since the BJP does not have a presence in large swathes of South and East India, the party is focusing on Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as it believes it has the potential to substantially improve its Lok Sabha tally in these states.
Confident of getting the support of the upper castes, the BJP is pitching its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi as a backward leader in Bihar with an eye on the Other Backward Classes vote. The BJP can add to its kitty if it can finalise an electoral pact with Paswan who has an eight per cent vote share in the state.
An alliance with Paswan will also boost Modi as the LJP chief had left the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in 2002 to protest against the communal violence which had engulfed Gujarat.
Chirag Paswan, Paswan's son, who is being groomed for a larger role in the party, indicated on Monday that the LJP is willing to forget the 2002 riots with an eye on the 2014 election.
BJP President Rajnath Singh had spoken to Modi about forging an alliance with Paswan and it is likely to give seven Lok Sabha seats in Bihar to the LJP to contest.
Ram Vilas Paswan will contest the Hajipur seat, his brother Ram Chandra from Samastipur; Chirag is expected to be fielded from Jamui.
Lalu Yadav's woes were compounded after his legislators walked out on him. Monday's development has come as a warning that all is not well in his own backyard. Lalu Yadav was convinced that a Yadav-Muslim consolidation and his alliance with the Congress would give him a head start while JD-U leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar would be squeezed out after his split with the BJP.
Monday's development shows that Nitish Kumar cannot be written off. Besides positioning himself for the Lok Sabha election, Nitish Kumar is safeguarding his government which is currently dependent on the Congress, the Communist Party of India and Independent members for its survival.
Paswan approached the BJP for a pre-poll alliance as he was upset with the RJD and the Congress who did not agree to give him a respectable number of seats for the Lok Sabha election. He is said to have asked for ten seats; the other two parties were not willing to part with more than five.
Having been out of power for the last five years, Ram Vilas Paswan is not averse to a ministerial berth.
Speculation about a possible BJP-LJP tie-up gained ground after Chirag Paswan met BJP President Rajnath Singh a few days ago. Reports about the alliance were confirmed by Paswan's aide Surajbhan Singh on Sunday.
Denying reports about his meeting with the BJP president, Chirag Paswan said the LJP's central parliamentary board will take a final call on the party's strategy and alliances.