After much dithering, the Congress has finally decided to bite the bullet on forging an alliance with Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar. Highly placed sources in both the Congress and the RJD have independently confirmed to the India Today Group that talks between the Congress and Lalu’s party have been successful and the formal announcement will be made within days.
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh met with LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan in the capital on Sunday evening. During an interview on Aaj Tak’s Seedhi Baat programme Singh said, “Lalu Yadav has been with the Congress since 2004. When other leaders attacked Sonia Gandhi on the issue of her foreign origin, Lalu Yadav defended Soniaji staunchly. RJD has supported the UPA at every turn in the past 10 years. We are making every effort to ensure that we have a tie-up with Lalu and Paswan soon.”
The decision to forge an alliance with Lalu follows a realisation in the Congress that the party’s chances in the forthcoming general elections are very bleak without building a strong set of alliances with regional players. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi had in the past been stressing on the need to rebuild the Congress from the bottom up in each of the major states where the party had ceased to be a dominant force. However, all the three recent opinion polls, including the Mood Of The Nation Poll done by C-Voter for the India Today Group have projected a complete drubbing for the Congress in Bihar in the absence of a tie-up with the RJD and LJP.
Congress strategists reveal that the party is hoping to build a coalition of secular forces in a bid to counter the Narendra Modi juggernaut. Congress leaders realise that the party is likely to face a barrage of criticism from the BJP for allying with a party led by a politician who has been convicted on graft charges. However, Digvijaya Singh argued, “One leader has been convicted and not the entire party. Lalu will not be contesting the elections. The entire party has not been held guilty. It is not Lalu but Rabri Devi who is leading the RJD today.” The Congress also points towards Modi welcoming the tainted BS Yeddyurappa back into the BJP fold despite a searing indictment by the Karnataka Lokayukta on corruption charges. “No party can claim the moral high ground in today’s day and age. Babu Bokhiriya is still a minister in Narendra Modi’s Cabinet despite being convicted on graft charges by a local Gujarat court,” said a defiant Digvijaya Singh.
Two senior Congress leaders who are privy to the deliberations with the RJD told the India Today Group that in the party’s estimate the alliance with Lalu has the potential to be game changer in the Lok Sabha elections. In 2009, when the Congress and the RJD fought separately, both parties were trounced at the hustings by the BJP and JD(U) combine. The Mood Of The Nation projections done by C-Voter show the RJD bagging 11 seats when the Lok Sabha elections are held. The Congress is projected to win two seats while the LJP is expected to win a solitary seat. The BJP is projected to be the major gainer bagging 22 out of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar.
However, the scenario changes completely if the vote banks of the Congress, RJD and the LJP are aggregated. According to the Mood Of The Nation Poll, the three parties have a cumulative projected vote share of 29 per cent while the BJP’s vote share is only 30 per cent. The narrow gap between the two vote-shares of the two opponents means that BJP will be in for a far tougher fight against a UPA alliance than if these parties were to contest separately.
Senior RJD leaders too who the India Today Group spoke to confirmed the development and said that the distribution of seats between the alliance partners has also been formalised. According to sources, out of the 40 seats in Bihar, RJD candidates will contest on 20-22 seats, Congress put up candidates on 10-11 seats, Paswan’s LJP will fight on 6-7 seats and NCP’s Tariq Anwar will contest from the Kathihar seat in Bihar. Congress and the RJD were in an alliance during UPA-I but talks between the two parties broke down on the issue of distribution of seats ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
Congress leaders at various levels have also been in informal talks with Mayawati’s BSP. But the discussions have not made much progress so far since Mayawati is demanding a national alliance and wants to put up candidates on seats in other states like Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana. Congress strategists say they are keen on a tie-up with the BSP but the possibility of reaching a mutually acceptable formula seems difficult at this time. One of the other reasons Mayawati is setting the bar high is because she realises that the Congress needs the BSP far more than she needs the grand old party for these elections. While BSP leaders are not willing to admit it publicly, Mayawati does not want to foreclose the possibility of supporting a non-Congress government at the centre after the next elections, especially if the electoral arithmetic makes the new government dependent on Behenji’s support.
Bihar vote share projection
Bihar seat share projections
|Janata Dal (United)||20||4|
| Lok Jan Shakti Party