As the Janata Dal (United) braced itself on Saturday to break with the BJP, its ally of 17 years, the Congress looked on with great interest: a split in the JD(U)-BJP alliance would not just make the National Democratic Alliance weaker, it would provide it with the choice of a partner in Bihar.
If the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) remained hopeful that such a parting of ways would brighten their electoral prospects in Bihar, they also continued to pressure the Congress gently to enter into an electoral arrangement for 2014. On Saturday, LJP senior leader Abdul Khalique told The Hindu, “The RJD and the LJP would like to join hands with the Congress to consolidate the secular forces to defeat the communal parties.”
The two parties have also been emphasising that the JD(U)’s possible break with the BJP on the issue of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi being named his party’s election campaign committee chief does not really boost the former’s secular credentials. “Nitish Kumar’s opposition to Narendra Modi is just a charade to garner Muslim votes,” RJD chief Lalu Prasad said in Patna on Saturday, even as he shot off a series of questions, asking Mr. Kumar why he had not resigned from the NDA after the Gujarat riots in 2002 like Ramvilas Paswan had; why he did not order an investigation into the Sabarmati train burning incident as Railway Minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA government. Mr. Prasad wanted to know whether it had been done to help Mr. Modi. He also asked Mr. Kumar to explain why he had “hosted RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat at the CM’s official residence.”
But if the RJD and the LJP would like to upgrade the relationship they have with the Congress from “outside” to “inside” support, as it was in UPA One, the Congress, ironically enough — given it has just two Lok Sabha seats in Bihar — is sitting pretty, still weighing its options.
On Saturday, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is in Srinagar, told journalists that the elevation of Mr. Modi was the BJP’s “internal matter. It is really not my concern.” Instead, he stressed, “My concern is how the Congress party is doing and how we are doing in different States.” To a pointed question on whether the Congress would invite the JD(U), now that it was on the verge of a split with the BJP, he was coy: “These are internal matters of the Congress party. Frankly, these decisions are not made by me. These decisions are made by senior leaders of the Congress party. So it is not for me to give invitations to anyone.”
Interestingly, his comments came on a day when Congress spokesman Bhakta Charan Das, describing the JD(U) as a “secular and like-minded party,” said like-minded parties could come together.
“The JD(U) is a like-minded party, which has faith in secularism. It is in alliance with a party with which its ideology does not match,” Mr. Das told journalists indicating that the Congress was not averse to doing business with Mr. Kumar’s party.
Of course, as political parties jockey for ideological positions, the Congress’ call for the coming together of “like-minded secular forces” could also be read as an effort to divide the proposed “federal front” of regional parties, now that Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Mr. Kumar are talking about the possibility of a non-Congress, non-BJP front.
Mr. Das said, “Like-minded secular parties have come together in the past and can come together even in future. Political formation of like-minded forces in the interest of the nation can happen any time.”
However, after throwing out all these hints, Mr. Das dodged all questions on whether the JD(U) or the RJD was the Congress’ natural ally in Bihar. All he was prepared to say was: “Both parties advocate secularism. Today, we are with the RJD. There is no confusion on it. Tomorrow if some situation emerges, our leaders will look into that. It’s not the time for us to comment on it.”