Sunday, September 20, 2009

Devesh Kumar - Bihar Byelection

Courtsey : The Economic Times

NEW DELHI: The verdict of the byelections in Bihar may have come as a shot in the arm to Congress, but it has also, at the same time, placed it in
the horns of a major dilemma — should it continue chanting the ekla chalo re theme, or should it swallow its pride and join hands with the RJD-LJP combine to form a broader ``secular’’ alliance in an attempt to checkmate the NDA camp in the next year’s assembly polls? The results of the byelections to the 18 assembly seats, in which Congress won two seats, wresting both seats from JD(U), has brought smiles back on the faces of its local satraps, but their good showing was dwarfed by an even more spectacular performance put up by the RJD-LJP combine. The alliance bagged half of the 18 constituencies that were up for grabs, with Mr Lalu Prasad’s outfit cornering six seats. The ruling JD(U)-BJP alliance, which could only win five seats, was pushed to a distant second position, making it clear that, far from being written off, the Lalu Prasad Yadav-Ram Vilas Paswan combo had emerged as a formidable player in the state’s political scene. As far as the opposition space in the state was concerned, they left no one in doubt about their credentials as the most powerful claimants. The development, far from bringing cheer in the Congress camp, has increased their worrylines. It is now caught in a major bind. Should it continue with its resolve of going solo in the next year’s electoral battle, it runs the risk of being dubbed as a vote-katua (spoiler) and ceding the ``secular’’ space to a resurgent RJD-LJP combine. An analysis of the voting-pattern in the latest round of byelections in the state shows that the alliance has been able to cut its losses. While the Yadavs and Dalits stuck to them, there are enough indications to the suggest that the Muslims have started gravitating back towards the combo. In the Araria seat, for instance, Muslim, who comprise a large chunk of the electorate, appear to have voted en-mass for the LJP candidate, Vijay Kumar Mandal. A similar pattern was visible in Phulwarisharif, tucked away in one corner of the capital Patna. If Congress, on the other hand, does indeed change its stand and decides to mend fences with Mr Prasad and Mr Paswan to forge a broader ``secular’’ alliance, it runs the risk of pushing the upper castes back into arms of the JD(U)-BJP combine. In quite a few constituencies that went to poll on September 10 and 13, Congress candidates walked away with large chunks of upper caste votes. Disenchanted with the Nitish Kumar government for its aggressive wooing of the non-Yadav OBCs and EBCs, the upper castes, who formed the backbone of the NDA in the state, have been eyeing alternative political platforms to park themselves on. Congress had, of late, started positioning itself for that slot. With the exception of Simri Bakhtiarpur and Chenari, the number of votes polled by Congress candidates was, however, not enough to put them ahead of their rivals. They ended up damaging the prospects of the RJD-LJP combine. ``Had Congress agreed to join us, we’d have swept the bypolls. By going it alone, the party only ended up wrecking our prospects,’’ argued a senior RJD leader. It is the fear of being dismissed as a spoiler in next year’s larger electoral battle that Congress will have to guard itself against. The tag can force its ``secular’’ supporters to veer towards the RJD-LJP combine, leaving the party only with the crumbs.