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Eastern ache for Rahul

New Delhi, March 15: The question of alliances in Bihar and Jharkhand has returned to haunt Rahul Gandhi whose initial plan to strengthen the Congress and claw back political space in the two states appears to have come a cropper.

He is now not ruling out the possibility outright as the party’s worries about next year’s general election pile up.

The issue dominated a meeting Rahul held yesterday with MPs from Jharkhand, which is under President’s rule. Senior leaders Subodh Kant Sahay and Pradeep Balmuchu argued in favour of an alliance with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and stressed that forming a government with the regional party now was better than waiting till next year.

The MPs’ advocacy of an alternative coalition was also an admission of the party’s inability to regain power on its own if fresh elections were held in the state now.

Balmuchu told Rahul a large number of Congress MLAs as well as those from the JMM favoured a government instead of continuation of central rule or fresh elections. Rahul asked him to furnish the list of such MLAs, saying he would take up the issue with Sonia Gandhi.

Ironically, while Rahul had been opposed to any electoral alliance in states like Bihar and Jharkhand, Sonia was against forming a rag-tag coalition with the JMM and Independents as past experiences were not good.

Balmuchu and Sahay insisted the main reason for the Congress’s decline was its inability to lead a government ever since Jharkhand was created 13 years ago. By contrast, they pointed out, the BJP had strengthened itself by sewing up coalitions even with unnatural allies.

In Bihar, the crisis is bigger. Most state Congress leaders oppose an alliance with Lalu Yadav’s RJD. At a recent meeting with Rahul, the leaders said the Congress would be rejected by voters for the next 10 years if it aligned with the RJD again in 2014.

They cited recent bypolls where upper caste voters had swung towards chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) at the last minute only because Lalu Yadav was drawing bigger crowds, sparking fears about his return to power.

But some central leaders want Rahul to formulate the Bihar strategy with a short-term perspective of the 2014 polls in which the Congress and the UPA must strive to block Narendra Modi’s ascendance. One senior Congress leader from Bihar said: “If we align with Lalu Yadav this time, the strength of the BJP-JD(U) combine will be halved. If we fight alone, we may not win a single seat.”