The Congress in Bihar is reeling from the blow it received after Rashtriya Janata Dal’s de facto chief Tejashwi Prasad Yadav announced in Delhi Sunday (30 January) that his party is not in alliance with the Congress in Bihar.
Tejashwi said that his party’s alliance with the Congress holds only at the centre. This declaration came as a shocker for Bihar’s Congress leaders who were in Delhi at that time hoping to meet Tejashwi’s father Lalu Yadav to work out a seat-sharing deal for the forthcoming Legislative Council elections in the state.
Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (BPCC) president Madan Mohan Jha, the party’s legislature party leader Ajit Sharma and the party’s campaign panel chief Akhilesh Prasad Singh had been camping in Delhi since the middle of last week seeking a meeting with Lalu Yadav.
That these key leaders of the Congress had no idea about the RJD’s plans to snap ties with the party (Congress) in Bihar speaks volumes about their political acumen and disconnect with the RJD leadership.
The state Congress leadership, say political observers, should have seen the break in ties with the RJD coming. In the by-elections to the Kusheshwar Asthan and Tarapur Assembly seats held in November last year, the RJD rejected the Congress claims over the former seat and fielded its own candidate there.
In November 2020, the Kusheshwar Asthan seat went to Congress under the seat-sharing deal between Congress and RJD. Though the JD(U) candidate won the seat, the Congress candidate put up a respectable show and got 34.26 per cent votes. The Congress lost by a little over 7000 votes.
The by-election to the seat was necessitated by the death of the JD(U) candidate. The Congress laid claim to the seat, but the claim was rejected unilaterally by the RJD which argued that the Congress had lost the seat in 2020.
The RJD contended that the Congress candidate in Tarapur could put up a respectable show only because of the RJD’s organisational muscle and the support of RJD workers on the ground. The RJD dared the Congress to go it alone and get an idea of its strength.
Following this, the Congress fielded its own candidates in both the seats where by-polls were held late last year. And the results turned out to be disastrous for the party: its candidates lost their deposits on both the seats.
The JD(U) retained both the seats, crushing Tejashwi Yadav’s dreams of upsetting the ruling NDA’s applecart in Bihar. Yadav had reckoned that if he wins both these seats, his party’s tally in the Assembly would go up to 77 and the mahagathbandhan’s legislative strength to 112.
The NDA, whose combined strength in the House after the Assembly polls was 125, would then see its tally going down to 123. The RJD had hoped that if it won both the seats in the bypolls, it would be able to get the support of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (which won five seats) and could engineer defections from the JD(U) and the two other NDA constituents (Hindustan Awam Morcha and Vikasheel Insaan Party) to make a bid for power.
But all that went up in smoke and the RJD blamed the Congress for dividing the opposition vote by fielding candidates in the two seats in the bypolls. The RJD contended that had the Congress desisted from putting up candidates, its candidates would have won in both the seats.
Since then, ties between the two Bihar allies--RJD and the Congress--have gone further downhill. But the state Congress leadership failed to decipher the RJD’s desire to dissociate with their party in Bihar.
“The RJD’s disenchantment with the Congress started immediately after the Assembly poll results were announced on 10 November 2020. The Congress won just 19 of the 70 seats it contested from, and its tally had come down from the 28 seats it won in 2015,” said political analyst Niranjan Mishra.
Mishra, who teaches political science at a prominent college in Patna, told Swarajya: “The RJD leadership felt that it was a grave mistake to concede to the Congress’ demand for a such a large number of seats and had the RJD contested on its own in the seats that the Congress lost to the NDA, chances of its (the RJD’s) victory in those seats would have been far brighter. Hence, the RJD leadership blamed the Congress for bringing down the mahagathbandhan tally and for the RJD not being able to unseat the NDA from power in the state”.
This analysis created a lot of bitterness and anger towards the Congress. Many senior RJD leaders also felt that the party’s patriarch--Lalu Yadav--was too soft towards the Congress due to his long association with Sonia Gandhi and a section of the top leadership of that party.
But there is no rapport between the present generation of the two parties--Tejashwi Yadav and Rahul or Priyanka Gandhi don’t get along too well. RJD leaders prevailed on Tejashwi to convince his father to maintain a distance from the Congress from then on and allow him (the younger Yadav and Lalu’s anointed political successor) to handle ties with the Congress.
As a result, Lalu Yadav did not respond to the Congress’ seat-sharing overtures this time. The state Congress leadership had prepared a list of 12 seats (of the 25 for which elections will be held later this month or early March) where it felt its prospects were bright.
“We wanted a seat-sharing deal with the RJD, which we thought was our ally even in Bihar. We identified 12 seats we have a good chance of winning and prepared a list of at least two strong candidates for each seat,” said a senior BPCC office-bearer.
The Congress leaders were hopeful that Lalu Yadav would accept their demand for 12 seats and so they went to Delhi to meet him. But Tejashwi prevailed on his father not to give them an appointment and poured cold water on Congress’ hopes by going to Delhi last weekend and announcing that the two parties were not allies in Bihar.
“Congress leaders in Bihar are living in a dream world of their own. They have no organisation worth the name in the state and don’t even have workers on the ground. They cannot piggyback on us to win a limited number of seats. The Congress has become a liability for us in Bihar,” said SK Yadav, a senior RJD leader.
Tejashwi Yadav’s unilateral announcement in Delhi was met with shock by Bihar Congress leaders camping in the national capital. They went into a huddle and met the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge of Bihar, Bhakta Charan Das who gave them the go-ahead to field candidates in all the 24 seats.
“We will now contest all the 24 seats,” said Bihar Congress legislature party leader Ajit Sharma. He said that there has been a deluge of applicants for Congress tickets in all these seats.
But the RJD scoffs at such claims, saying that the Congress is a spent force in Bihar. “The Congress will not be able to win even one Legislative Council seat. It has no idea how weak it is in Bihar,” said RJD’s SK Yadav. He added that the Congress has become irrelevant in the State.
Despite the bravado displayed by Bihar Congress leaders who claim the party will put up a good show in the Legislative Council polls, many in the Congress are privately worried about the party’s dim prospects.
“Without the RJD’s support and resources, we are nothing in Bihar. Our state leaders might paint a rosy picture about the Congress’ strength to the high command, but we know the reality. We could not even get polling agents at many places in the 70 Assembly seats we put up candidates in (in 2020) and had to depend on the RJD’s organisational muscle,” admitted a Congress leader.
The RJD’s unilateral decision to snap ties with the Congress in Bihar has, thus, come as a rude jolt to the latter and plunged the party into a crisis.
Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.
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