That the Congress and one of its potential allies, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, were among the first to see their members disqualified from Parliament following conviction in corruption cases is only incidental. After the Supreme Court struck down Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act which gave convicted sitting Members of Parliament protection from immediate disqualification, the real surprise was the disintegration of an emerging consensus among the political class against the judgment. As public opinion seemed to weigh against politicians seeking the cover and comfort of legal delays, the main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, broke ranks. And soon enough, not to be left behind, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi came out and rubbished the “nonsense ordinance” that sought to allow convicted persons to continue as MPs or legislators if their sentence was stayed by an appellate court within 90 days. From then on, the race was for reclaiming the high moral ground. With its image at stake, there was little chance of Rashid Masood and RJD chief Lalu Prasad figuring in the political calculations of the Congress. The withdrawal of the ordinance might indeed have worsened the ties with the RJD, but the Congress was certainly looking at the bigger picture, and not just Bihar. Winning voter goodwill, even if only to a limited extent, was more important than stitching together an alliance with one party. Instead of having to be defensive on what could have turned out to be an important electoral issue, the Congress was hoping to project Mr. Gandhi as a representative of the youth who could feel the pulse of the people very well. That the Manmohan Singh government was made to look silly for having tried to push through an ordinance of this nature seemed a small price to pay in the face of potential gains for the Congress as a party.
In any case, the failure of the UPA government to come to the aid of Lalu Prasad need not foreclose all possibility of a Congress-RJD tie-up. After all, electoral strategies are not based on personal likes or dislikes. What matters is whether the two parties need each other in Bihar. At the moment, the alliance options of the Congress seem to be wider than that of the RJD. With the break-up of the alliance between the Janata Dal (United) and the BJP, the JD (U) too is looking for friends to make up for the shortfall. Even if there is some public sympathy for a former chief minister going to jail, this is unlikely to be a major electoral factor. The Congress did well in backing itself, and not a discredited ally. For the party, a lot was gained in withdrawing the hurriedly-framed ordinance, and little seems to have been lost in Bihar.