By Shyam Khosla
Political churning is taking place in Bihar at an unprecedented pace. Electoral fortunes of major parties in the fray have changed beyond recognition during the past few weeks. In the initial stages of the poll campaign, the Congress was so confident of the revival of its electoral fortunes in Bihar that it rejected with contempt Lalu Yadav'soffer of 35 Assembly seats, after seven rounds of talks and tie up with Ram Vilas Paswan. The Congress-Paswan combine made anti-Lalu noises, though the RJD is very much a part of the UPA and Lalu is the Railway Minister. The combine did it in the fond hope that it would garner a major chunk of anti-Lalu votes to win enough seats to force the RJD to accept a non-RJD Chief Minister.
The BJP-JD(U) combine moved cautiously and restrained its leaders from making tall claims. The alliance worked on the ground and concentrated on mobilising grassroot workers. It slowly but steadily raised the pitch of its campaign without claiming that it would get a clear majority.
It wisely resisted the temptation to name its chief ministerial candidate to begin with but came up with JD(U) stalwart Nitish Kumar, as the chances of its victory brightened. Eventually, the NDA withdrew its offer to accept Paswan as the Chief Minister of a non-RJD government. It speaks volumes about its confidence to secure a majority, with the help of independents, if necessary. As the state readies for the third round of polling, the NDA is emerging as the front-runner.
As of now, the Congress seems to have realised that its so-called revival in the poverty-stricken state remains a pipe dream. Its state leaders now admit that their ambivalence cost the party dear. The Congress tied up with Paswan but didn'tforesake Lalu. It has fallen between the two stools. The party, that launched the campaign claiming it would cross the 50-seat mark in tune with Congress party'srevival throughout the country, will be happy to get 20 seats in the new Assembly. Its ally, LJP ran a high-pitched campaign projecting Paswan as the Messiah of the Dalits and the Muslims. The party claims to have made inroads into the Muslim vote bank and is hopeful of snatching some seats from RJD.
However, the LJP has lost its steam and is now reconciled to the bitter truth that Paswan'sdream of becoming the Chief Minister is unlikely to be fulfilled, at least in the near future. His demand of putting the state under President'srule for two years in the event of a hung Assembly is a measure of Paswan'sfrustration and disillusionment. He is now hoping against hope that no party or pre-poll alliance will get a clear majority, not even if the Congress were to join hands with Lalu.
Paswan is a Union Minister. His demand for imposing President'srule even before the last vote has been cast and counted is a calculated move to send a strong signal to the voters to desist from going the BJP way, if they want a popular government. It is a veiled threat to invoke Article 356 if the people vote BJP to power. It is a move that is totally unconstitutional and runs against the democratic spirit of our polity.
Political circles in the national capital see in it a deep-rooted conspiracy to which the Congress is also a party. The Congress party'slack of commitment to democratic norms has been demonstrated time and again. Having foreseen its miserable defeat despite Sonia Gandhi'sextensive election campaign, the ruling party wants to run the Bihar affairs as the leader of the ruling alliance at the Centre. Bringing the state under Central rule is also a devise to prevent Lalu Yadav from exploiting the loopholes in the anti-defection law to conjure up a majority of sorts by persuading a majority of Congress and LJP legislators to join the coalition.
Starting as an underdog because of the anti-incumbency factor, the BJP seems to have regained a lot of ground in Jharkhand during the past few weeks. Its aggressive campaign and the realisation among the alert voters, that the alternative to the NDA is a totally corrupt and criminal JMM-Congress combine, has slowly but steadily tilted the balance in its favour. While no one can claim with any amount of confidence that the BJP-led alliance will get a clear majority in the next Assembly, indications are that it may emerge as the single largest alliance in a hung Assembly. The JMM-Congress combine that was projected by pollsters as a winning combination is, as of now, trailing behind the NDA, if the trends in the two rounds of polling are any indication.