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Post Lalu's conviction, Congress weighs its options

September 30, 2013 21:28 IST

A cautious Congress has decided to adopt a wait and watch policy with regard to its choice of alliance partner in Bihar in the light of Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav’s conviction in the fodder scam on Monday. Anita Katyal reports.

Not only does Lalu stands disqualified as a member of the Lok Sabha after the court order, he will also not be able to contest next year’s general elections.

While the RJD faces an uncertain future without its charismatic leader in the election fray, the political situation in Bihar has been thrown into a flux as the latest developments are expected to lead to a realignment of political forces in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

The RJD and its chief political rival, the Janata Dal-United, will slug it out for the minority vote, the Bharatiya Janata Party will try to weaken the RJD’s Yadav support base and  the Congress will have decide between Nitish Kumar’s JD-U and the RJD as its ally  in next year’s polls.

Although the Congress does not have a large presence in Bihar, both the RJD and the JD-U would like to align with it as a partnership with the grand old party would consolidate the minority vote in favour of this combine.  

Although Lalu’s proximity to the Congress is well-known, the grand old party has been keeping its options open about its future partnership ever since Nitish snapped ties with the BJP.

When the Union Cabinet cleared the ordinance overturning a Supreme Court order disqualifying convicted legislators, it was seen a clear signal that the Congress would prefer Lalu over Nitish as its partner in next May’s election as the government’s  move was meant to bail out the RJD chief.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi is known to have a soft spot for Lalu as he has proven to be a loyal ally, having defended her in the face of fierce criticism over her foreign origins.

This was soon followed with the release the Raghuram Rajan report which categorised Bihar as being a least developed state thus making eligible for more Central funds. Nitish has been demanding special status for Bihar for a long time and had even made this a pre-condition for his support for the Congress.

Predictably, the report’s contents and the Bihar chief minister positive response to it, led to speculation that the Congress would align with the JD-U in the upcoming polls.

While Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s public denunciation of the ordinance, has made it difficult for the Congress to partner the RJD, the party has decided to first assess the ground situation before taking a final view.

“It’s too early to talk about alliances in Bihar...we will first have to see how the situation pans out in the coming weeks,” a senior Congress told rediff.com

Lalu has a strong band of supporters within the Congress who have been arguing that the party should not forsake him for Nitish as the court verdict will unleash a wave of sympathy for the jailed leader.

According to this section in the Congress, the RJD was already on the comeback trail as he had succeeded in consolidating his Muslim-Yadav support base and that the latest development would further strengthen Lalu.

Making a case for aligning with the RJD, another senior Congress told rediff.com that Lalu’s  imprisonment does not necessarily reflect on the entire party.

“The party is much more than an individual. Just because Lalu has been convicted, it does not mean that all RJD leaders stand tarnished... after all, the party has an ideology and a distinct identity,” the leader underlined.

However, the Congress will have to first ascertain if the RJD will be able to retain its support base in the coming months.

 Lalu’s conviction does not augur well for his party as it has created a leadership vacuum  in the RJD while there is a serious fear that the Yadavs  may be tempted to go along with the BJP which has been assiduously wooing the community after its break-up with Nitish.

The Yadavs will be willing to align with the BJP because of their shared antipathy towards the Bihar chief minister.  

While the BJP is eyeing the RJD’s Yadav support base, Nitish is hoping to wean away the Muslims from RJD although the minorities have always been inclined towards Lalu.

The minority vote could have been divided if the RJD chief was in the election fray but the latter’s conviction could drive the Muslims to the JD-U as he is seen to be taking on the BJP.

Anita Katyal in New Delhi