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Cong's Nitish pill might cure its Mulayam fever

June 19, 2013 23:12 IST

Cong's Nitish pill might cure its Mulayam fever

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Apart from opening up the possibility of a tie-up for the 2014 general election, the crucial Congress support to Nitish Kumar’s trust vote also has other advantages, notes Anita Katyal.

By directing its four legislators to back Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Wednesday’s confidence vote, the Congress has ensured the support of the 22-member Janata Dal-United for the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre and opened up the possibility of an alliance between the two parties for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The support of the JD-U contingent in the Lok Sabha also means that the Congress-led ruling coalition is less vulnerable to Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav’s tantrums.

Realising that the UPA government’s longevity is dependent t on his party’s 22 Lok Sabha MPs, Yadav has kept the Congress on tenterhooks with his periodic threats to pull the plug on the UPA government.

With JD-U on its side, the Congress can breathe easy and hope to push through its stalled legislative agenda in Parliament, starting with the all-important Food Security Bill for which the government is planning to call a special session.

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Image: Congress' support to JD-U means that UPA is less vulnerable to Mulayam Singh Yadav's tantrums
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

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'Vote for Nitish Kumar a future investment'

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“Today’s vote was an investment for the future,” remarked a Congress functionary.

Congress insiders said the party had originally decided to abstain in the confidence vote sought by Nitish Kumar but it changed its mind after it received inputs from the Muslim community in Bihar that the Congress should openly demonstrate its support for the Bihar chief minister who had taken on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

“By voting for Nitish Kumar, our party wanted to send out a signal to the minority community that it had stood by the JD-U leader who has virtually declared war against Modi,” remarked another senior Congress office-bearer.

He said if their party had not voted for the Nitish Kumar government, the chief minister would have got an opportunity to launch a scathing attack against the Congress for letting him down in his fight against “communal forces”.

This was also reflected in the explanation offered by Congress spokesperson P C Chacko today. “We supported the JD-U government in Bihar to keep communal forces at bay. Our support is unconditional as the BJP wanted to defeat the government,” Chacko said.

He emphasised that the party took a “unilateral decision” and the Congress did not expect anything in return.

Although the Congress has been softening towards Nitish Kumar in the recent past with the promise of a special financial package for Bihar and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh describing him as secular, the party is no rush to stitch up an alliance with the JD-U. Responding to persistent queries, Chacko steadfastly maintained that today’s vote was an isolated case and is not a prelude to any future alliance.

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Image: Congress supported Nitish Kumar to keep communal forces at bay, says P C Chacko
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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'Vote for Nitish Kumar a future investment'

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For the moment, however, the Congress is enjoying the prospect of having a choice of partners in Janata Dal-U and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal which is extending outside support to the UPA government at the Centre.

It is tickled at the fact that it has the support of Bihar’s political rivals JD-U and the RJD as well as Uttar Pradesh’s political foes Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Congress leaders said it’s too early to state the party’s preference at this stage. They said a decision will depend on whether Nitish Kumar strengthens his position or Lalu Prasad Yadav shows signs of revival in the coming days.

There is all-round agreement that Nitish Kumar has taken a huge risk by breaking his alliance with the BJP which had brought in the upper caste vote to power him to a landslide victory in the last assembly polls.

Nitish Kumar, however, hopes to consolidate the crucial Muslim vote in his favour which could go back to the RJD fold as demonstrated in the recent Maharajganj bypoll.

A senior Bihar Congress leader said as the party’s decision will depend on these factors, Nitish Kumar could prove to be a better bet for the party if the minorities show marked preference for him over the RJD and the upper castes do not desert him in favour of the BJP.

“So far, the upper castes have not been averse to Nitish Kumar,” remarked the leader, but the real story will unfold in the coming months.

However, it is not for the Congress alone to decide on future alliance with the Janata Dal-U. It is also possible that Nitish Kumar may not consider Congress to be a credible partner.

He may instead go it alone to maximise his strength in the Lok Sabha polls so that he can drive a hard bargain after the elections. Alternatively, he could join other regional satraps in the formation of a Federal Front.

 


Image: From Lalu to Nitish, Mulayam to Mayawati, is Congress spoilt for choice?
Photographs: Reuters

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