Anti-graft rider in place, Congress close to deal with Lalu, Paswan

For all their posturing and efforts at keeping one another guessing, the RJD, the LJP and the Congress are set for an alliance in Bihar, going by indications from all three parties. Sources in the Congress said, in fact, that the alliance would likely be given formal shape after an AICC meeting on January 17 that is expected to project Rahul Gandhi as prime ministerial candidate.

A top AICC source told The Indian Express the party has "almost decided" on that alliance while taking care not to go against Rahul's "anti-corruption" rider. RJD chief Lalu Prasad cannot contest in any case, having been convicted, and a large section of the Congress leadership believes it can can impress upon the RJD and the LJP to choose candidates with a clean image. The RJD had got 18.81 per cent of the votes in the last assembly elections while suffering its worst defeat; the feeling on either side is it can only gain by tying up with the Congress.

The Congress has not ruled the JD(U) out altogether as a potential ally. "At least two leaders close to Rahulji are still in favour of an alliance with the JD(U), but that is possible only if it works out as a Congress-LJP-JD(U) alliance," a source said. "Ram Vilas Paswan, however, has been wary of his core Paswan voters turning against him if he goes with the JD(U)." Others point out Paswan's objective is allying with the Congress, whoever else in part of it.

It is, however, Lalu and Paswan who recently met Sonia Gandhi and were reportedly assured of an alliance under a formula that could see the RJD taking its share — 15 to 17 of 40 seats — and leaving the division of the rest to the Congress and the LJP. With two Bihar members in the Lok Sabha, the Congress is likley to bargain for a larger share than the LJP, which has none.

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