Although Congress president Rahul Gandhi's rally at the famous Gandhi Maidan in Patna last Sunday was reportedly an impressive affair, in the coalition era political power is won by making firm arrangements with like-minded parties before an election.
For the BJP this is less of a headache as the saffron party has traditional allies left in only two states now — Maharashtra and Punjab. A sloppy compromise with them can be struck without radically altering the party's prospects in the next Lok Sabha election, freeing the BJP to contest the polls in most states on its own. It’s not so with the Congress.
The country's largest secular party, even in its historically weakened state, has two compelling considerations: It must win a fair size of Parliament seats in order to remain in the race; and it must seek to formulate tactics in a way that the BJP finds the going tough, and that amounts to praying that its secular allies also perform well. In some places, this means contrasting pulls being at work. This is the Congress' great dilemma.
In Bihar, for instance, the talks with RJD, the main regional force on the secular side, are nowhere near being satisfactorily clinched since these days regional parties are keen to be strongly represented in Parliament. If the UP story on alliance-making is repeated in Bihar, the Congress will be forced on the back-foot overall, instead of batting on the "front foot", that Mr Gandhi speaks of these days.
So far a proper alliance has been struck only in Jharkhand. In Tamil Nadu too, the Congress must work for something similar in order to be credible....