Congress down, Nitish starts to drift away

Nitish KumarNitish at an election rally in Delhi; his party won one seat. PTI/File

The JD(U), which has been weighing its alliance options since it severed ties with the BJP, has started to distance itself from the Congress following the latter's drubbing in the elections in four states. For the first time since the NDA split in Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has talked about "a clear anti-Congress wave" in the country.

Nitish had so far been looking at the prospect of a "tactical" if not formal pre-poll alliance with the Congress, but now appears to be considering reverting to a strategy of "equal distance from the BJP and the Congress". The only thing that appears to be holding the JD(U) from taking a final stand is that the Centre has been keeping Nitish guessing — and hopeful — about granting Bihar special assistance.

The Congress does not have much of a presence in Bihar, having won just two of 40 Lok Sabha seats in 2009. Its leaders say the Congress "knows well how good Nitish is at playing the politics of convenience."

Lalu Prasad's RJD, which has been lying low since the conviction of the party chief in the fodder scam, has hinted at "an outside chance" of approaching the Congress for an alliance.

JD(U) sources say Nitish Kumar, who has sought a commitment from the UPA on his demand for special assistance if not special category for Bihar, now appears more inclined to go it alone than "give a confusing message to the public about being close to the Congress at a time when the anti-Congress pitch is so shrill". The chief minister has, in fact, started blaming the BJP for "weakening the anti-Congress mood by choosing Narendra Modi as its PM candidate". The JD(U) has started the process of looking for candidates for all 40 seats.

"We gave a clear signal to the Congress in October by taking part in a Delhi meeting of 17 regional parties," said a senior JD(U) leader. "If Bihar gets special central assistance after being categorised among the least developed states in the Raghuram Rajan committee report, we will have something substantial to tell the people in the fight against Narendra Modi."

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