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Left-UPA deal softens Lalu's defeat

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
November 22, 2005 14:06 IST
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At 11 am today, when history was being made in Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav had not given up all hope. He was sitting inside his bungalow in Patna, away from the glare of his own core group.


While watching the television, he yelled at those around him: "Even now, eight rounds of counting are remaining. Rabri is leading by 127 votes."


As it became clear that the Bihari janta has not merely voted against him but uprooted him with a political vengeance, he told his favourite government officer, "I will get 80 seats at the end of counting."


Complete coverage: Bihar votes


That was when the Janata Dal-United and the Bharatiya Janata Party were already leading  in 127 seats.


Of course, by then the Congress has already discounted the loss, and it had reason to feel unthreatened by the Bihar developments.


In spite of Lalu Yadav's drubbing and the Congress's shameful tally in Patna, the central government will not face instability immediately because the Left parties and Congress have declared truce on economic and diplomatic differences.


Only yesterday, the Manmohan Singh government scored an impressive win in the ongoing psychological war with the Left combine over Iran. The Congress cited the nuclear proliferation details of Pakistani scientist A Q Khan and his link with Iran's weapons programme to impress upon the Left parties that voting against Iran at the IAEA is a continuance of India's stand against nuclear proliferation and not aimed at India's political relations with Iran which the country valued.


The Left parties, knowing well Lalu Yadav, their best bet in Bihar, would lose on Tuesday, were forced to soften their stand in view of the big picture.


Another significant development helping the prime minister's team is that the Left parties have okayed disinvestment in non-Navratna Public Sector Undertakings.


Both these issues have stabilized the equations in New Delhi, between the Left parties' and the ruling coalition.


Lalu's loss in Bihar thus will be absorbed without any heavy jerk in New Delhi, with the Left helping Congress president Sonia Gandhi, whose office did enough lobbying, reach a deal before the Bihar results.


That doesn't still account for Lalu Yadav, who will try his best to show that he is down but not out. He will insist before Gandhi that Lok Janshakti Party's Ram Vilas Paswan had weakened the United Progressive Alliance and must be sacked. Yadav will be desperate to show he still wields influence over Sonia Gandhi. The Congress is certainly relieved that the days of Lalu Yadav's "political blackmail" are over but nevertheless, it doesn't want the UPA to crack so Yadav will be given a chance to "save his face."


The Congress calculates that Lalu Yadav will face many criminal cases in Bihar under the new dispensation; the final judgment in the fodder scam cases against him is also expected before March 2006. That case more than anything else presents Prime Minister Singh with acute moral dilemma. He might have to bear with a "tainted Laloo and his men," which will erode his own credibility.


On the other hand, Lalu Yadav will have to keep a tight grip on his 20 members of Parliament who could be attracted to the Congress in their lust for power.


The Left parties have 59 MPs, but they are outside the government. Yadav with 20 seats is thus the biggest bloc inside the government. With Bahujan Samaj Party's Mayawati sitting on the fence with her 19 MPs, Lalu will move slowly and steadily after his initial roars before cameras have subsided.


Whatever he does and whichever way the Congress acts, Bihar's political earthquake of November 22 will radically change the course of Indian politics.


The Congress will also in the long term eye Nitish Kumar, whose rise ironically puts his alliance partner, the BJP, in a fix since it cannot now pull out its Hindutva card. Nitish Kumar will have upper hand vis a vis both the national parties. 


No doubt, the BJP has received an injection of much-needed confidence at a time of internal gloom, but the rise and consolidation of a smaller party like the JD-U shows that two-party polity in India is a distant dream.


If in Bihar, in the final analysis, it comes out that the secular votes were divided and Muslims went with Nitish Kumar, it will petrify the Left parties and Congress equally. It will mean that the people, instead of voting for ideology, plumbed for development and global realities. That is enough to scare all political parties that fail the people's aspirations for good governance.   


Indian politics has once again entered in an exciting phase, thanks to Lalu's spectacular defeat.


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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi