The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Breathless on Bihar

New Delhi, Nov. 21: The BJP was upbeat, the Congress circumspect and Laloo Prasad Yadav’s RJD aggressive on the eve of the Bihar poll verdict.

The BJP’s optimism stemmed from its own assessment as well as the projections in the exit polls of the National Democratic Alliance having a “decisive” edge over the rival coalition, the UPA.

An added impetus was the surveys putting the Janata Dal (United) leader, Nitish Kumar, on top of the charts for the chief minister’s post ' way above Laloo Prasad.

Congress sources drew attention to Sonia Gandhi’s recent statement that her colleagues and Laloo Prasad had told her “we would do extremely well”, but that she was not 100 per cent with them. They said this was their perception, too.

“For the record, our leaders are claiming that the Congress itself will improve its showing by 100 per cent, that is a jump from 10 to 20 seats. Even if it becomes a reality, we should not claim credit for it,” said a general secretary.

The party thinks defeat of the UPA would not rock the boat at the Centre. “We got a mandate in the Lok Sabha polls to govern the country for five years. That mandate was not linked to the Bihar polls,” said general secretary Ambika Soni.

Sources said defeat would reduce Laloo Prasad’s leverage in Delhi and increase his dependence on the Congress for his own survival in Bihar. But they also believed that a vulnerable Laloo Prasad, if needled by the Congress too much, could trigger a realignment of political forces.

“The option of moving closer to the Left and Mulayam Singh Yadav (a former ally) is always open. So we have to be careful and not push him towards them,” the sources added.

Mulayam Singh did not campaign in Bihar as he had in February, a factor that was taken note of by the Congress in the context of a third front emerging in the future.

If the verdict throws up a hung House and Ram Vilas Paswan becomes critical to government formation, Congress sources said its leaders would take a decision on who should head the UPA in Bihar in conjunction with Laloo Prasad.

Paswan, who is fighting the polls separately from the RJD-Congress alliance, has said in the past he would have no problems with the Congress heading a coalition.

The Congress sources were clear a UPA loss would not necessarily mean the exit of Paswan, the steel minister, from the government.

For the BJP, the Bihar win is just what the leaders are looking at to end the electoral drought that started in May 2004. Sources said the credit for a win should go to the Dal (U) and Nitish Kumar. Consistent with the “dharma” of coalition, the BJP would let its ally call the shots in government formation. Like the Congress, the BJP’s imperative is to hold on to the Dal (U) and not let it drift towards a “secular” formation.

In the event of defeat, the BJP’s fear is that it could lose the Dal (U) to such a grouping.


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