In the hung assembly, the fate of Lalu hangs in balance. To swallow defeat after remaining in absolute power for 15 years, after continued bluster and braggadocio, must indeed be a painful exercise. As the results started trickling in, the darling of the TV screens remained indoors, ignoring the battery of video cameras and OB vans, with only a handful of party men for company. The absence of drum beating and slogan shouting RJD workers was deafeningly eloquent. The place was swarmed only by the assorted media personnel.
The results were not very unexpected. Even though the RJD emerged as the single largest party, the NDA pre-poll alliance pushed the ruling party down to the second slot. Yet none of them is near to the magic figure of 122. Ram Vilas Paswan, the new player in the poll play, expectedly emerged as ‘king-maker’ -- or spoiler, if you saw it from the other side of the fence -- while the Congress performance is even worse than its opponents would have hoped for.
Lalu had been trying to assure himself and his audience that in each previous election too his opponents had predicted ‘gaili, gaili, gaili, Lalua gaili’ ("Laloo is gone") but he had defied the odds to stage a magical come back. He would prove his detractors wrong once again, he claimed. He had done that in 1995 and 2000 assembly elections. But, this time, the opposition was more circumspect -- they refrained from making any such prediction. They did not make Lalu their main issue and the speeches by their leaders were not filled with vitriolic attacks on Lalu. Even the firebrand BJP leader Uma Bharti stopped short of tearing Lalu apart.
Instead, they wisely chose to make the abysmal conditions in the 15-years of lantern rule that have made Bihar one of the country's darkest regions as their main poll-plank. In contrast, Lalu had little to say. He was merely asking the voters to ‘ratify the contract to rule for 20 years’.
And then there was old bete noire Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janashakti Party (LJP). Paswan went hammer and tongs to lash at the RJD and declared unambiguously that he would not side with Lalu or with the NDA. The problem with its main ally, Congress, was that it attempted to sail in two boats at the same time. On the one hand it had an alliance with its UPA partner RJD on 12 seats, while, on the other, it had an understanding with LJP on another 70 seats. The party seemed confused as ever and that clearly confounded the voter's dilemma.
What hurt Lalu the most was the Muslim attraction towards Paswan. For the first time in 15 years, there were visible cracks in Lalu's painstakingly built MY (Muslim-Yadav) combination. The Yadav disenchantment towards Lalu was also obvious at some places. This solid vote bank of Lalu was in fact in search of an alternative for the last many years because Muslims were getting increasingly alienated from the present regime which was beginning to take them for granted with its claims of providing them security. The voter fatigue was evident, which would also explain Lalu's desperate attempts to try and trumpet the UC Bannerjee Godhra interim report, and other blatantly obvious political overtures about Urdu and Arabic.
The rift in Lalu-Rabri family came as another jolt. Rabri’s brother Prabhunath Yadav and sister-in-law Indira Yadav contested against the wishes of Lalu. Although both licked the dust, the revolt in the family also sent a wrong message. Lalu was heard admitting privately that his two ‘saalaas’ (brothers-in-law) were largely responsible for his troubles.There were also mutterings about having been misled by them, and their selling the party tickets to unwanted ticket seekers.
With a hung assembly and fractured mandate, the main political parties like the NDA and RJD are already trying to woo the 'man of the match' Paswan, and both would attempt to form the government with the help of other smaller parties and Independents, opening the gate for horse trading. But in this uncertain political situation, all eyes are likely to be fixed on Raj Bhavan where, if can stretch the cricket metaphor, the hardly non-partisan 'Umpire' Governor Buta Singh sits firmly ensconced.
Buta Singh was one of the men responsible for advising Rajeev Gandhi to open the locks to the Babri Masjid. He is the man who now would in many ways hold the key to the fate of the state. With Paswan taking a stubborn stand and pressing for President's Rule, and the Left requesting Paswan to reconsider his decision, the theatre of action has already shifted from Patna to Delhi, to the real 'Third Umpire', the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
Scenario 1: Status Quo in Bihar: Least likely. Obviously, what Lalu would want. He and Paswan split over the Railway ministry, so Lalu swaps that with Paswan and hopes Paswan would finally kiss and make up. But why should Paswan, indeed? Okay, so what if Lalu also offers his brother the Dy CM post? But this would affect Paswan and his supporters who clearly wanted the Lalu-Rabri team out.
Scenario 2: UPA stays in Bihar - This one has various possibilities.
- LJP CM (Paswan or brother as CM) and UPA stays in power, with the same combo as above. If Paswan wants Railways, Lalu would have to be accommodated with a better portfolio.
- Congress CM. Very iffy. Same central cabinet carrots would have to be employed.
- Status quo. Lalu is able to purchase enough support and break LJP (not registered, so easy to break-up). Numbers don't quite add up.
Scenario 3: NDA CM or NDA backed CM
- Backs LJP: The main problem would be resistance from Paswan's Muslim supporters in particular, even if he succeeds in upsetting his bug bear Lalu's gravy train.
- Nitish Kumar is CM with the Independents' backing. NDA would need to do a lot of hard buying and bargaining, with nothing much to offer really.
Scenario 4: President's Rule: Paswan favours this, and so would Congress, actually.