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Lalu breaks political ice

Patna, May 18: Narendra Modi has ensured a telephone conversation after 20 years between friends-turned-bitter rivals Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar.

JD(U)-RJD sources said Lalu called up Nitish yesterday, a day after the election results left Bihar’s two giants decimated to single-digit status.

The call, away from the drama unfolding in the state’s political circles, is part of the backchannel efforts that are on to build a bridge between the JD(U) and RJD, both offshoots of the erstwhile Janata parivar.

Though it was not known what transpired between the two leaders, sources said both realised their options were becoming limited — indeed their relevance was being questioned — in a state where the BJP had taken massive leaps forward.

The BJP, riding the Modi wave, on its own won 22 of Bihar’s 40 seats. Its allies, Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, bagged six and three respectively.

The JD(U) managed two seats, while the RJD got four.

Unlike in states such as Tamil Nadu and Bengal, where the political bitterness is so deep-rooted that its rival leaders don’t exchange minimum courtesies, Bihar’s two main political leaders have been on speaking terms since their break in 1994. But they have not been known to discuss political issues.

What has brought the two friends-turned-arch-rivals to speak politics is a threat to their political existence in the wake of the rise of the BJP, which has decimated them even in their strongholds. “The two leaders, while analysing the results, have reached a common conclusion — it is not the actual wave but the division of the votes on communal lines that has made it look like a wave in favour of the BJP,” a source close to the two leaders said.

“It was felt that the JD(U), which has around 16 per cent of the votes, and the RJD-Congress, which secured a shade above 29 per cent, should come together to thwart the BJP, which alone got 29.4 per cent of the votes,” added the source.

The BJP alliance has together obtained 38.8 per cent of the votes. Had the JD(U)-CPI contested together with the RJD-Congress, they would have got 45.5 per cent of the votes.

Though officially neither party would confirm it, it was learnt that the JDU had tasked state minister Shyam Rajak and the RJD had nominated Manoj Jha, its national spokesman, to explore and work out the framework for a possible alliance on the ground.

The sources said that as the results trickled in on Friday, it was Lalu’s daughter Misa Bharti who impressed upon her father the need for an alliance of “secular parties”. “The majority of the Bihari vote is getting scattered,” Misa is learnt to have told Lalu.

Several RJD leaders have been making the suggestion for a possible rapprochement with the JD(U) for quite some time, but the demand has now received an impetus with even the family urging Lalu to consider joining hands with Nitish.

The other person in Bihar’s socialist triumvirate, Ram Vilas Paswan, had to bow to his son Chirag’s insistence on an alliance with the BJP prior to the polls. The LJP has reaped rich dividends, winning six of the seven seats it contested, a huge revival considering it drew a blank in 2009 with questions being raised about Paswan’s political survival.

“It is time that the older generation started listening to the next generation,” said a source in the RJD.

Strategists in both the JDU and RJD have also concluded that despite Lalu succeeding in consolidating the Muslims against Narendra Modi in the last stages of the elections, the minority vote did get split — to some extent if not in a major way — between the two groupings. The JDU’s reduced margin in Nitish’s home turf of Nalanda — the party scraped through by about 9,000 votes against the LJP — is believed to be the result of the split in the Muslim votes.

“If the Lok Sabha results are broken down, the BJP has outperformed both the JDU and RJD in over 80 per cent of the Assembly segments. Given the emerging scenario, the BJP might repeat its performance in the Assembly elections too if Nitish and Lalu carry on with their mutual hostilities,” a senior RJD leader said under cover of anonymity.

Officially, Lalu remained non-committal, saying he would wait to see what turn the developments within the JDU take.


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