Congress president Sonia Gandhi dialled Lalu Yadav on Tuesday amid signs that the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader considers his long-time ally a dead weight in Bihar, especially with the approaching by-polls becoming a flashpoint between the parties.
Lalu Yadav, returning to Bihar politics after three years in jail and hospitals, held up a giant red flag for the opposition alliance on Monday as he publicly dissed a Congress leader and questioned what good the alliance had done for his party.
Both the RJD and the Congress are contesting the assembly by-elections to two seats — Tarapur and Kusheshwar Asthan – on Saturday. This has deepened the rift between the allies.
Lalu Yadav was asked whether the RJD’s alliance with the Congress was over. “Kya hota hai Congress ka gathbandhan (of what use is an alliance with the Congress),” snapped the former Bihar Chief Minister.
Asked to comment on Congress leader Bhakt Charan Das saying the RJD was helping the BJP by turning its back on the Congress, Lalu Yadav retorted: “Should we have parted with a seat so that the Congress lost it and forfeited its deposit? Bhakt Charan is a bhakchonhar (stupid person).”
Though state Congress leaders are furious with the RJD leader, Sonia Gandhi wants to smooth things over with one of the party’s oldest allies, say sources.
Sonia Gandhi and Lalu Yadav have always shared good ties; in 2004, when the Congress came to power, the RJD chief strongly supported Sonia Gandhi for the post of Prime Minister in the midst of a chorus against an Italy-born PM.
Lalu Yadav’s unabashed impatience with his ally reflects the strain that set in last year when the Congress’s dismal performance was seen to drag down the opposition alliance despite the RJD scoring the most seats in the Bihar election.
With the opposition Mahagatbandhan falling short of a majority, the BJP and Nitish Kumar returned to power. In post-mortems many allies blamed the Congress, which won only 19 of 40 seats in its share.
Significantly, Sonia Gandhi called Lalu Yadav soon after a meeting of the Congress’s state chiefs, in which the party’s problems in various states was reportedly discussed threadbare.
In the Congress meet, Sonia Gandhi urged her party leaders to focus on discipline and unity “overriding personal ambitions”. She also commented on what she called “a lack of clarity and cohesion” among state level leaders.