The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hung: 2, hanged: Laloo
Savouring the moment: Paswan being offered sweets by his wife after the results were declared in Patna. (PTI)

New Delhi, Feb. 27: The Congress had its huge victory in Haryana soured today by a split in anti-BJP votes which left a hung result in Bihar and Jharkhand. The Opposition National Democratic Alliance drew strength from the fact that the outcome could have been worse.

In Bihar, Ram Vilas Paswan emerged as the kingmaker as it appeared that the constituents of the ruling Congress-led alliance in Delhi had succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by contesting the elections separately. Similar disunity in its camp saw the BJP-led combine in Jharkhand almost snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Political managers of the major players went into action here and in the respective state capitals to make something of the fractured verdict in Bihar and Jharkhand.

The BJP-Janata Dal (United), the single largest alliance in Jharkhand, will stake claim to form the government tomorrow, though the Congress-Jharkhand Mukti Morcha partnership made it clear that it was not out of the sweepstakes, despite coming a distant second. Allies with Laloo Prasad Yadav in Delhi, here, too, the Congress and JMM did not tie up with him.

Even if an alliance is forged now, they will cut the gap with the opposing combine but still not be in a position to claim majority at 41.

Despite emerging as the largest alliance in Bihar, the BJP-Dal (U) appeared diffident about pressing its case to form the government because of divisions over teaming up with Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party. The farthest the National Democratic Alliance partners went to project themselves as a contender was to claim that they were 'working' on Independents who won either with BJP or Dal 'support'.

BJP sources said while they were ready to bring Paswan on board by offering the chief minister's post, a 'powerful' section of the Dal would have no truck with him. The resistance was coming mainly from Nitish Kumar, who was positioned as the chief minister, and Sharad Yadav.

Sources said they were hopeful of touching the 'psychologically comfortable' mark of 100-plus which would 'pull' Independents and unattached legislators towards them. That optimism had proved hollow by the end of the day.

'Our workers are in touch with the Independents, two of whom won with our tacit support. Some had links with us in the past. Once things crystallise, we will formulate our strategy,' said BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley, in charge of the Bihar polls.

Laloo Prasad, with the threat of having to move out of 1 Anne Marg staring him in the face, proclaimed that he would stake claim as head of the single largest party. But he left the door of an understanding open with the Congress and Paswan, despite a bitter campaign.

The verdict, he said, was for 'secular parties', having himself taken a hit of over 30 seats. Laloo Prasad declared that he would not allow the BJP-led alliance to set foot in Bihar.

Paswan, in whose camp celebrations were under way over a tally of around 30, was not as generous. He said President's rule was the only option and that he would keep a distance from both Laloo Prasad and the BJP-led alliance.

Even if Laloo Prasad, Paswan and the Congress come together, they will be short of majority but there is a huge chunk of 'Others' where deals are possible.

Laloo Prasad said he had the backing of Independents and the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Nationalist Congress Party.

In the welter of claims and counterclaims, the role of the governors in Patna and Ranchi, both former Congressmen, is crucial ' a point ruefully conceded by the BJP.

The Congress, its alliance in Delhi looking unsettled, was clear that the immediate task was to bring Laloo Prasad and Paswan together.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi has detailed her political secretary, Ahmed Patel, to work on Paswan. Patel spoke to him, possibly setting up a meeting with Sonia tomorrow.

Having divided the Delhi alliance in Bihar and Jharkhand to bring Laloo 'down on his knees', Congress general secretary Ambika Soni struck a different note today. She said that though the BJP-Dal may have got more seats in Bihar, the mandate was not 'anti-Laloo'.

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