Two months is an eternity in politics,as Ram Vilas Paswan is finding out. In May,he found himself out in the cold after his Lok Janshakti Party drew a blank in a general election fought in partnership with a newly steadfast ally,Lalu Prasads RJD. This rootlessness in Parliament was a new circumstance for him,especially given his track record in leveraging his profile for a good cabinet berth. But already he finds himself being courted by the Congress,an outreach confirmed by Paswan. He says the Congress wants him to dislodge his party from its alliance with the RJD and the Samajwadi Party,but that he is holding out for a wholesale shift towards the Congress along with his Yadav allies. Those ties of loyalty may be tested in days to come,but the churning has already begun in Bihar politics,very likely to Paswans advantage.
But is this primarily about Paswan or is it more about the Congress? In Uttar Pradesh,the party is holding tight to the threads of a controversy following Rita Bahuguna-Joshis dubious remarks and the state action it brought. Ever since the party decided to go it alone in UP in the general election,and was returned to the Lok Sabha as the second biggest group from the state,the spectre of revival is hastening political manoeuvres. In Bihar,the same tactic brought less thumping results,but the overture to Paswan could be of a piece with the overarching Congress strategy of rebuilding the grand social coalition that would anchor the partys dominance at the national level in the strongholds of UP and Bihar. This reaching out to a dominant Dalit leader like Paswan while distancing middle-caste leaders like the two Yadavs would suggest so.
The Congress has in many ways also suggested its inclination to reverse the fragmentation of the 90s and re-absorb old constituents of the party like perhaps,the NCP and the Trinamool. But the move to absorb,by pact or otherwise,politicians bred on the anti-Congressism of the old Janata Dal family such as Paswan and V.P. Singhs son Ajeya,is more striking. It indicates a comfort with dealing with old adversaries to acquire a greater socio-political sprawl.