For all their posturing and efforts at keeping one another guessing, the RJD, the LJP and the Congress are set for an alliance in Bihar, going by indications from all three parties. Sources in the Congress said, in fact, that the alliance would likely be given formal shape after an AICC meeting on January 17 that is expected to project Rahul Gandhi as prime ministerial candidate.
A top AICC source told The Indian Express the party has “almost decided” on that alliance while taking care not to go against Rahul’s “anti-corruption” rider. RJD chief Lalu Prasad cannot contest in any case, having been convicted, and a large section of the Congress leadership believes it can can impress upon the RJD and the LJP to choose candidates with a clean image. The RJD had got 18.81 per cent of the votes in the last assembly elections while suffering its worst defeat; the feeling on either side is it can only gain by tying up with the Congress.
The Congress has not ruled the JD(U) out altogether as a potential ally. “At least two leaders close to Rahulji are still in favour of an alliance with the JD(U), but that is possible only if it works out as a Congress-LJP-JD(U) alliance,” a source said. “Ram Vilas Paswan, however, has been wary of his core Paswan voters turning against him if he goes with the JD(U).” Others point out Paswan’s objective is allying with the Congress, whoever else in part of it.
It is, however, Lalu and Paswan who recently met Sonia Gandhi and were reportedly assured of an alliance under a formula that could see the RJD taking its share — 15 to 17 of 40 seats — and leaving the division of the rest to the Congress and the LJP. With two Bihar members in the Lok Sabha, the Congress is likley to bargain for a larger share than the LJP, which has none.
RJD sources call Congress-RJD-LJP the most “natural alliance” that would bring together the Yadavs (12 per cent, core RJD voters) and the Paswans (3 per cent, core LJP voters). They say the Yadavs feel isolated with the RJD out of power, and so do the Paswans after being left out of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Mahadalit list of beneficiaries of welfare schemes.
“If the Congress ties up with the RJD and the LJP, it will bind the two caste groups with a common interest while consolidating the Muslim votes, which Nitish Kumar has been trying to split after snapping ties with the BJP,” said an RJD leader.
In the LJP, a section of leaders is uncomfortable with Rahul’s rider, fearing they will not get tickets. Sources said Rama Singh is hoping for a Lok Sabha ticket from Ara while another strongman, former MP Suraj Bhan Singh, wants his wife Vina Devi or nephew Chandan Singh to contest from Nawada. The LJP may insist on Nawada — Suraj Bhan Singh’s wife lost last time — but may find it difficult to field someone from that family given the anti-corruption rider. Besides, the RJD has been fielding Kanti Singh from Ara, leaving Rama Singh uncertain.
There has been talk of fissures between the two parties on these counts. “A JD(U) leader has been working overtime to break the RJD-LJP alliance but will never succeed. The fact that neither Laljuji nor Paswanji has spoken a word against the other shows the alliance is as strong as ever,” said RJD principal general secretary Ramkripal Yadav.
LJP sources said Paswan was not keen on any alliance without the Congress in it. “It is true that much of the Yadav vote went against the LJP last time, but things have changed. The core voters of the RJD and the LJP desperately want their parties to become stakeholders to power in Delhi,” said a senior LJP leader. He said the JD(U) too has been making overtures but the party is wary of Nitish and can only think about it if the Congress is part of it.
The JD(U), which is upset with the Congress for backing out of its assurance to give Bihar special status or at least a financial package, does not appear keen on allying with the Congress after its recent rout in assembly polls. It would rather ally wih the LJP and Left parties. JD(U) spokesperson K C Tyagi said: “Though we have had no word from the LJP, we are for an alliance with like-minded parties and have already spoken to the CPI and the CPM.”