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PARTY TIME

Defections from one party to another are just one of the games that Indian politicians play. What has been happening in Bihar has happened in that state and elsewhere before. There was always a possibility of legislators defecting from their parties once Nitish Kumar parted ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party and his government was reduced to a minority. The fact that the latest defections happened from Lalu Prasadís Rashtriya Janata Dal is not exactly a surprise. The RJD was always the most vulnerable of the parties in Bihar, thanks mainly to Mr Prasadís declining political fortunes. Legislators belonging to the BJP had little to gain from crossing over to Mr Kumarís side. Since their separation, relations between the BJP and Mr Kumarís Janata Dal (United) have been bitter. Besides, the BJP hopes to make major gains both in Bihar and at the national level in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. The Congressís numbers in the Bihar assembly are too small to make it a significant factor in the survival of Mr Kumarís government. So it was the RJD that faced the greatest threat from potential defectors. That was exactly what happened. It is still unclear how many of the RJD legislators have actually ditched the party. But everything suggests that Mr Prasad has a tough job holding his flock together.

Misfortunes are said to never come alone. The defections from the RJD have come at a time when Mr Prasadís old ally, Ram Vilas Paswanís Lok Janshakti Party, looks all set to desert him and switch over to the BJP. Mr Paswan may no longer command the support among some of the backward castes that he once did. But, if he finally ends his alliance with the RJD, it will further isolate Mr Prasad. And that will leave him completely at the mercy of the Congress, the only party he can hope to ally with for the Lok Sabha polls. The Congress, which is not much of a force in Bihar, may even have second thoughts about having a weakened RJD as a partner. Mr Prasadís only consolation may come from the fact that Mr Kumar, his principal rival, is not in too comfortable a position either. But, if the Congress reaches an understanding with the JD(U) ó before or after the polls ó that will be the worst blow to Mr Prasadís hopes of a political comeback. But then, the electoral season has just begun. Bihar may offer more surprises in the coming weeks.