Bihar elections barometer of Congress comfort at centre

Anand Sahay

New Delhi, January 31:

The election for the Bihar state assembly will give a fair idea of the current health of the BJP and Janata Dal (U), the NDA parties that matter in the state. After its defeat in the Lok Sabha poll last May, the NDA has been in pretty poor shape.

It lost the assembly elections in Maharashtra, a major state, though the ruling Congress-NCP alliance was groaning under anti-incumbency pressures. Indications are the NDA is on a slippery slope in Haryana and Jharkhand which go to the polls at the same time as Bihar.

However, the election in Bihar is likely to be watched more for the contest among parties of United Progressive Alliance, which rules the Centre, than for the fate of the BJP and JD (U) partnering it. The RJD of Lalu Yadav has been in the saddle in Bihar for 15 years at the head of different coalitions. RJD magic has been sustained thanks to the unbeatable Muslim-Yadav combination or ‘M-Y’, though RJD’s performance in administration is the dismay of the country.

The Congress, reduced in UP and Bihar to a pale shadow of its once glorious self, has so far remained content to be a very minor partner of the RJD. But this time around, relying on its pre-eminent position at the Centre, the party has taken steps to recoup some of its old strength. It is said to be finding some resonance in the Muslim minority and in sections of the upper caste. On account of electoral understanding with Ramvilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, which along with the RJD is its ally at the Centre, it also hopes to attract a section of the Dalit vote. All of this has contributed to make the Bihar election extremely complicated. The Congress has fielded many more candidates than anyone had expected but has sought to remain equidistant between RJD and LJP. The Congress is unlikely to be unduly perturbed even if RJD retains its number one position in the state so long as RJD’s strength is substantially undercut and Yadav is obliged to take the party more seriously than before. Should this happen, the Congress is bound to feel more secure at the Centre.

If RJD returns at the helm in Patna but with Congress playing a leveraging hand, Lalu Yadav is unlikely to get ideas that would embarrass Sonia Gandhi’s party. In that event, the Congress may find itself better poised to face Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh where it has been in the doghouse for several years. However, if Lalu Yadav shows he is still pretty much in full control of Bihar, the Congress could be in for a degree of political discomfort at the Centre.