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Rahul, Lalu wary of Nitish win

A victory for Nitish, although unlikely, would make him the opposition’s main face, which is not acceptable to the Gandhis.

Pankaj Vohra  New Delhi | 22nd Aug 2015

The alliance between Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress appears to be doomed even before the commencement of the Bihar Assembly elections later this year. It is evident that the combination suits only Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his improbable victory would be at the expense of both Rahul Gandhi, who is being projected as the alternate to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by his party at the national level, and Lalu Prasad Yadav, whose prime position in Bihar politics would be over for all time to come. There is a very big if — if Nitish wins, as the caste combinations are totally against his resurgence. However, a victory for him would make him a natural choice throughout the country as the opposition's main face against PM Modi, thereby putting an end to any hope Congress president Sonia Gandhi may have of anointing her son Rahul as the principal challenger in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In cold political terms, a Nitish win would be the end of Rahul's career or whatever remains of it.

At the ground level though, Lalu Prasad Yadav seems to be best placed amongst the three leaders and Congress may land up with a score which is even lower than the 2010 tally of five seats. If that happens, the grand old party would enter a phase where it would have to struggle to be counted as a national party in the coming years and this could precipitate a fight within the organisation.

Four former Chief Ministers — Amarinder Singh, Bhupendra Singh Hooda, Ashok Gehlot and Sheila Dikshit — and one present CM, Virbhadra Singh do not seem to be too happy with the way things are happening within the Congress. Some of their supporters have already hinted that they could contemplate forming an alternate strategy including the formation of separate individual units or a collective forum.

The lack of seriousness on part of the Congress high command regarding Bihar elections has been demonstrated by the fact that the first meeting to discuss the plans and strategy was held very recently — on 10 August at 6, Mahadev Road. The main concern of the partymen from Bihar is that the seats being offered to the Congress are mostly losing seats and thus the outcome is a foregone conclusion. The central leaders entrusted to look at Bihar have been mainly worried about their own interests and at least one of them is understood to have discussed his future Rajya Sabha prospects with a prominent leader close to Nitish Kumar.

Sources said that it was this particular leader who impressed upon Rahul Gandhi to have an alliance with Nitish, when the better option available to the party would have been to have an understanding with both Lalu Prasad Yadav and former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, who, along with his supporters, has decided to back the BJP-led NDA, thereby ensuring their virtual sweep at this early stage. Analysts knowledgeable about Bihar affairs believe that if this combination had assumed a concrete shape, the forward votes now tilting heavily towards the BJP would have been divided and the OBCs and Maha Dalits aligned with Manjhi would have made both Nitish Kumar and the BJP shaky.

It is common knowledge that the Bhumihar community is not very happy with the BJP in view of Narendra Modi giving more weight to the Rajputs, with whom they have had a running feud since a long period. But had they been offered an alternative, they could have helped the Congress and the rest. It is true that the Bhumihars, who are a force to reckon with in Bihar, were upset with the grand old party after it appointed Ashok Chaudhury as the state president sometime ago, since they believed, rightly or wrongly, that he had played a role in the murder of a prominent Bhumihar leader, Rajo Singh, a few years ago.

But even then had they been tackled properly, they could have lent their support to the Congress. Under the current political circumstances, they have been forced to go with the BJP as they are miffed with Nitish Kumar for having stabbed in the back Anant Singh, a strongman from the community, by ordering his arrest. Anant Singh and Jagdish Sharma, another well known Bhuimhar leader, would have gladly supported the Congress alliance had Nitish been not there.

The Congress, Manjhi and Lalu combination would have also got the support of a section of Koeris led by Shakuni Chaudhury since he is directly aligned with Manjhi. This combination would have further benefited from the support of powerful Rajput leader Narendra Singh, who wields considerable influence in areas bordering Jharkhand and of a section of Nitish Kumar's Kurmi community led by Rajiv Ranjan. The Kurmis are badly divided even now and their known representatives like Brishan Patel, who heads the Jathuhar Kurmis, is not with Nitish, who belongs to the Kochisa Kurmi clan, while Rajiv Ranjan is the main leader of the Ghamila Kurmis. The Avadhiya Kurmis and the Surya Panchi Kurmis too are divided, although R.C.P. Sinha, a key aide of Nitish belongs to the latter.

Sources said that if the Chief Minister is in deep trouble it is because of his own wrongdoing. He had appointed every well known bureaucrat from his community to important positions in his government. This had happened at the expense of other communities. Manjhi, for instance, is the leader of the powerful Musahar clan and even top Kahar leaders such as Prem Kumar and Prof Bhim Singh do not support Nitish. They would have gladly helped Congress had Manjhi been with them.

What the Congress seems to have lost out is influential Yadav leaders such as Pappu Yadav, who is now going to help the BJP, in addition to top Ahir leaders such as Hukum Dev Narain Yadav, Ram Kripal Yadav and Om Prakash Yadav, who are already in the saffron brigade. However, Lalu Prasad Yadav could salvage some of his pride and emerge as the leader with the maximum number of seats in the present alliance, where Nitish would be the principal loser. Prabhunath Singh, a prominent Rajput leader aligned closely with Lalu, is all set to join Rashtriya Lok Samta Party of Upendra Kushwaha.

An important omission in the Congress strategy of Bihar is its failure to consult former Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra, who is perceived by one and all as the man behind the clout which Jitan Ram Manjhi wields in the state. Mishra has enormous influence in Mithilanchal and Seemanchal regions and controls the Brahmins. If he was able to guide Manjhi in his battle against Nitish, it was also because most of Manjhi's supporters are from the Congress stable and have done their political apprenticeship in the grand old party.

The decision to keep the Nationalist Congress Party out of the alliance will also cost Nitish Kumar. NCP's Katihar MP, Tariq Anwar is livid with the Chief Minister for keeping him out. He, therefore, is likely to work against the interests of this alliance. In addition, the Muslims in the state are also divided along caste lines in the caste ridden politics of Bihar. For instance, they are divided amongst Kolhias represented by Taslimuddin, Bangalis, Suryapuris, Sher Shahbadis and Paschimahas. In addition, if Asaduddin Owaisi decides to contest some seats in the state, his presence would only help in consolidating the Hindus behind the BJP.

Out of the 243 seats in the Bihar Assembly, the Janata Dal (United) has 105, RJD 22, Congress 5 and BJP 96, with the remaining being with the others. In the Lok Sabha, the NDA has 32 seats out of 40, including 23 with BJP, 3 with Rashtriya Lok Samta Party and 6 with the Lok Jan Shakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan. Politics is a game of possibilities and going by the dominance of caste equations that determine election outcomes, the NDA is sitting in the driver's seat, with Congress and Lalu hoping that Nitish's dream collapses at the altar of the Assembly elections.

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