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Lalu builds bridge with Nitish

RJD eyes anti-BJP alliance

Patna, May 22: Lalu Prasad today took the first step towards a possible grand alliance against the BJP in Bihar by deciding to offer “unconditional” support to the JD(U) government.

The decision comes a day before the new chief minister, Jitan Ram Manjhi, faces a trust vote to prove his majority in the Assembly. Though the government has the strength needed to cross the majority mark of 119, the RJD’s support gives an additional shot in the arm to Manjhi.

Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) at present has 117 MLAs and the backing of two Independent members, one CPI and four Congress legislators. With the RJD’s 21 MLAs backing it, the government will have the support of 145 members in the House of 243, whose effective strength is now 237 because of six vacancies.

The Telegraph had reported in its edition of May 19 on the back-channel efforts to build a bridge between the JD(U) and RJD, both offshoots of the erstwhile Janata parivar, following their drubbing by the BJP in the elections.

Lalu today said his party’s support to the JD(U) was for the sake of keeping communal forces out of power in Bihar. “The support is external. We will not let the government fall and allow the BJP to grab power in Bihar. About the future I can only answer in the future,” he remarked.

RJD’s leader in the Assembly Abdul Bari Siddiqui said the party was extending support because chief minister Manjhi was a Mahadalit. “But,” Siddiqui was quick to emphasise, “even if Nitish Kumar had remained the chief minister, our decision would have been the same.”

Lalu later flew to Delhi where he met Congress president Sonia Gandhi, apparently to seek her party’s support for Rabri Devi’s nomination to the Rajya Sabha. Lalu, though, said he went to promise a joint fight against communal forces. “This is a storm. It will not last long. We will fight communalism tooth and nail. We have given unconditional support to the JD(U) government in Bihar to foil BJP’s design to capture power in the state,” he reiterated.

The Congress is in favour of a grand alliance in Bihar given the BJP’s sweeping victory that puts it in a strong position to capture power in the state on its own.

RJD leaders said the process towards recreating the old Janata parivar would have to be slow. “The Assembly polls are still more than a year away (scheduled in November 2015). If an RJD-JD(U) alliance has to take concrete form, the process has to be slow. Both parties need to acclimatise the leaders, workers and, most important, the voters for the alliance,” said an RJD leader, stressing that it would be a “step-by-step” process.

The re-alignment in Bihar’s politics also implies that it is now the BJP versus the rest, a huge leap for the party that had so long played second fiddle in the state. “Even during the elections the two had an unholy alliance. The JD(U) candidates tried to transfer their votes to the RJD in parliamentary constituencies where they realised they could not win. In spite of that, we won,” BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said, stressing that just by adding up the votes obtained by the JD(U) and RJD, Lalu and Nitish cannot hope to win. “Votes aren’t always simple mathematics,” he added.

Lalu and now Nitish are seeking to turn the clock back to the post-Mandal days when the entire backward caste and Muslims united behind the RJD chief.

“However, the process is going to be extremely difficult. Bihar has moved out of the post-Mandal era, which saw tension between the upper castes and backward castes. The BJP is becoming more and more acceptable to the backward castes,” said a JD(U) leader, who spoke under cover of anonymity.