The possibility of a Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) alliance in Bihar, which grew after Lalu Prasad’s release on bail, once again looks limited with the national party caught in a quandary over saving its corrupt image at the Centre and facing a strengthened BJP in Bihar. All eyes are on the AICC meeting in Delhi on January 17, when the party is expected to announce its prime ministerial candidate.

The Bihar Congress is of the opinion that Mr. Prasad is better poised to take on the BJP on the ground than chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U). It has conveyed this sense to the Delhi leadership. Bihar Congress president Ashok Choudhary has met AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi on two occasions and party chief Sonia Gandhi once.

“The JD (U) was in power with the BJP and now that they have broken their alliance, we think the RJD is stronger on the ground to fight the BJP. Plus, RJD is an old ally,” a Congress source told The Hindu earlier.

While the senior Congress leadership in the State, namely MLA Sadanand Singh, MP Meira Kumar and senior leader Shakeel Ahmad, are in favour of an alliance with the Congress, the rank and file want to go it alone.

“The Bihar Congress has given its opinion to the party leadership. We have spoken of strengthening secular forces in the State,” Sadanand Singh told The Hindu.

However, the clinching factor, party sources said, is the role Rahul Gandhi is set to play. “The party is still in dilemma. Both options [RJD and JD (U)] are open. With Rahul Gandhi’s stand on corruption, especially the ordinance [against convicted legislators] and his recent one on Adarsh, how would the party defend itself if we go with RJD? His image would take a beating. We have to be very careful that his position is not compromised as he is our future leader,” party sources said.

The Congress’ and Rahul Gandhi’s backing for the Aam Admi Party was an attempt at “correcting” its image, tarnished by scams. At such a time, a tie-up with the RJD would be “political suicide,” party sources said. The perception is that Rahul Gandhi personally may not favour an alliance with Mr. Prasad.

Upper caste vote

A section of the Congress feels that with the NDA no more in the picture Congress is better poised to go it alone in the State. The BJP has been projecting Narendra Modi as a backward class leader. In this situation, by joining hands with the RJD, the Congress may lose its “base” upper caste vote to the BJP.

Uncertainty looms in the RJD camp even though party leaders assured that the alliance is on the cards. The current period till the Sankranti festival on January 14 is believed to be inauspicious, owing to which no further moves are being made. “That is the main reason. We have not yet had a formal meeting with the Congress. We are also waiting to see what happens at the AICC meeting,” RJD leader Ram Kripal Yadav said.

Signs of trouble were also seen between the RJD and its State ally Lok Janshakti Party over seat sharing.

An undecided Congress, sources said, is aiming for “adequate representation” in any alliance. Mr. Prasad has clearly said that he would not repeat the mistake of 2009 related to seat sharing.

In the absence of any initiative or indications from Congress, the party dismissed the RJD’s assurances as “one-sided” and an attempt to steal a march over Nitish Kumar.

Congress in charge, Bihar affairs, C P Joshi is expected visit the State on January 8 and 9, and take stock of the political situation.