The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kingmaker fallen, not finished

Patna, Nov. 17: There was a time when Dalits would raise the slogan, “upar aasmaan, neeche Paswan” (you can rely on the sky above and on Ram Vilas Paswan on the earth below).

But Paswan, with pretensions of being the kingmaker in February, has by common consensus overplayed his card this time and is expected to lose more than half of the 30-odd seats his Lok Janshakti Party had won last time.

But it is Paswan who continues to haunt the “Leader Number One” in Bihar. Even if the SDF (Secular Democratic Front) of the Congress-RJD and the CPM do even better than the exit polls have suggested so far, the alliance might have to fall back on Paswan and his party to get a functional majority.

Even with 12 MLAs, therefore, in the new Assembly, Paswan can still play a critical role. That is why the last lap of the RJD campaign steered clear of the shrill, even vituperative, criticism of Paswan that was in vogue earlier.

Laloo Prasad Yadav obviously realises that Paswan and the CPI would extend conditional support at best. He is also aware that the alliance would not accept Rabri Devi as the next chief minister in a hung House. Laloo Prasad himself has no plans to come back to Bihar, which is confirmed by Congress sources as well.

The Congress, his minor ally in Bihar, would like nothing better than to send him packing from New Delhi. Party sources recall how the draft manifesto, prepared under the supervision of Digvijay Singh, had spoken of Bihar’s need to fall back on the “dynamic leadership of Laloo Prasad Yadav”. But once the implication was explained to him, the RJD chief is learnt to have flown into a rage and ensured that the offending paragraph was suitably amended.

On the eve of the last phase of polling, there are creases of worry in both camps. While the NDA hopes to secure between 115 and 120 seats (the half-way mark is 122 in a House of 243), the RJD camp fears that it might fall short of 105.

The most optimistic estimate in the RJD camp is that the party would secure around 90 seats, 15 more than last time. Even if the Congress gets 15 seats, compared to 10 in February, and the CPM retains its solitary seat, the strength of the secular front gets pegged at 106.

This is said to be the reason why the swagger has not yet deserted Paswan. No government, he repeats, can be formed without him.

If Paswan walks out of the Union cabinet and joins hands with the NDA, it would suit Laloo Prasad and he would gladly sit in the Opposition. But if Paswan insists on extending support to the secular front but on his own terms (in other words insisting on a third person as chief minister), Laloo Prasad would find it difficult to wriggle out of the corner.

It is this prospect which is said to have robbed Laloo Prasad of his trademark sense of humour.

Of all people, it has been left to BJP’s M. Venkaiah Naidu to provide some comic relief at rallies when he deadpans: “Pati, Patni aur Pradesh ' teenon ki halat kharab hai aur badlao zaroori hai” (The husband, the wife and the state are all in a bad shape and a change is required).

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