Political firmament in Bihar will witness a step-change in the coming days not only because of the incarceration of former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav in the long-festering fodder scam. The split between the JDU (Janata Dal United) and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) will also have humongous ramifications in the way political landscape would shape up in the near future.
True, national parties haven't started in right earnest to explore possibilities and gauge the mood of the people. Part of the reason is the fast-approaching assembly polls in five states in November-December, considered the semi-final between the Congress and the BJP leading up to the final next year, the parliamentary polls.
Bihar, long known as a benighted state due to its economic backwardness, is a politically crucial state as it sends 40 members to Lok Sabha. With the general elections just a few months away, there is bound to be a tussle to capture the hearts and minds of the Bihari voters. Casteism has been ingrained in politics here, and therefore, all parties will certainly craft their respective strategies to influence the caste groups.
The RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) of Lalu Prasad Yadav is, no doubt, in dire crisis after he was sentenced to five years in prison in a fodder embezzlement case that started in the nineties when he was the chief minister.
The court found that around Rs38 crore was fraudulently withdrawn from the treasury meant for the purchase of fodder. Lalu and 44 others were found guilty.
Lalu is allowed to contest polls six years after his release. So in practice, he has an 11-year poll ban, something that will certainly dent the future of his party considerably.
Of course, he will move the high court but that will not help him stay on as a member of the Lok Sabha.
A recent Supreme Court ruling quashed a pendency clause in the Representation of the People Act (RPA) that allowed the member under question to keep his seat if he went for appeal within three months after he was sentenced by a lower court.
For good measure, the central government has revoked its ordinance meant to nullify the apex court order under pressure from Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
The buzz at that time was that the aborted ordinance was intended to save Lalu, among others. Lalu must have been terribly cut up over Rahul's move. In the past when Rahul's mother, Sonia Gandhi, had been attacked from different quarters in the name of her Italian extraction, it was Lalu who supported her more vociferously than many of the Congresspersons.
Unfortunately for Lalu, his incarceration came at a time when there was every indication that his RJD party would bounce back in the polls.
It may be noted that RJD won the Maharajganj parliamentary seat defeating JDU candidate by a margin of 1.36 lakh votes in a recent bypoll. Though his wife, former chief minister Rabri Devi and sons have vowed to lead the party from the front in his absence, nobody is certain about the party's prospects.
The sympathy votes, which the party is banking on, could come from Lalu's Yadav caste at most, which comprises 12-13 per cent of the population. Muslims, 16.5 per cent of the population, are likely to gravitate towards the ruling JDU led by Nitish Kumar as he showed the guts to jettison the BJP on the issue of the prime ministerial candidacy of Hindutva icon Narendra Modi.
Furthermore, Congress, RJD's ally, is sending out every signal that it is ready to hitch its wagon to Nitish Kumar's star. The Congress supported JDU in the trust vote in Bihar assembly after the exit of the BJP.
Besides, the UPA government has acquiesced to Nitish's demand that Bihar be granted 'special category status' which means more fund from the centre and most of it as grant.
Even so, it is doubtful at the moment whether JDU will plump for a pre-poll alliance with the Congress though it might support it, if need be, post-poll.
The idea of a third front is still in the air. Nitish belongs to the backward Kurmi caste which forms just 2.5 per cent of the population. But he banks on Koeris and the Muslims as well to get through the poll.
BJP, meanwhile, hopes to win the vote of the majority community, not least the upper caste which forms not less than 12-13 per cent of the population. The saffron party is set to plug way the growth agenda of Narendra Modi with a promise that the state would develop at Concord speed if it is voted to power.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.