Congress Likely To Pay Heavy Price For Listening To RaGa’s Left-Radical Aides And Walking Out Of Mahagathbandhan In Bihar

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Oct 23, 2021 08:02 PM +05:30 IST
Congress Likely To Pay Heavy Price For Listening To RaGa’s Left-Radical Aides And Walking Out Of Mahagathbandhan In BiharKanhaiya Kumar on joining the Congress (Twitter)
  • The Kusheshwar Asthan assembly seat in Bihar goes for a bypoll on 30 October.

    Bihar Congress leaders say that the decision to turn down the RJD’s request to withdraw its (Congress’) claim over the seat was taken under pressure from Rahul Gandhi who acted on the advice of his close aides.

The Congress is no longer part of the Rashtriya JanataDal (RJD)-led ‘grand alliance’ or mahagathbandhan. This was formally announced by the Congress’ Bihar in-charge, Bhakta Charan Das.

The bitter parting of ways was triggered by the RJD’s decision to field its nominee from the Kusheshwar Asthan Assembly seat where bypolls will be held on 30 October.

This seat was allocated to the Congress as part of the mahagathbandhan’s seat-sharing deal in the Assembly elections late last year. The seat was won by Shashi Bhushan Hazari of the Janata Dal (United), and his demise in July this year necessitated the bypoll.

The Congress’ Ashok Kumar trailed Hazari in the elections last year by a little over seven thousand votes. The Congress assumed that since it was allocated the seat in 2020, it would field its own candidate from the seat this time too. But the RJD had other plans. Contending that the Congress had no chance of winning the seat, the RJD top brass decided to take away the seat from the Congress and field a strong candidate.

“The dice is generally loaded against an opposition candidate and in favour of the ruling party nominee in a bypoll, especially in one that comes close on the heels of the general elections. The Congress is a small player in Bihar and its candidate stands no chance against the ruling party’s nominee. That’s why we thought it wise to field a strong candidate from our party,” RJD leader Santosh Yadav told Swarajya from Patna.

The RJD’s contention is that the LJP, which fielded a candidate against Hazari last year, had taken away a chunk of the JD(U)’s votes, and that is why Congress’ Kumar lost by only a little over seven thousand votes. “Had the LJP not contested from this seat, the JD(U)’s winning margin would have been much more,” said Yadav.

Karan Singh, a close aide of RJD heir apparent Tejaswi Yadav, said that the state Congress leadership was requested by his party to give up its claims to the Kusheshwar Asthan seat. “The state Congress leadership was told even though the mahagathbandhan failed to win a majority, we (the RJD) are the single largest party and a strong candidate contesting on an RJD ticket has a very good chance of defeating the JD(U) nominee from this seat. A Congress nominee, on the other hand, would only give a walkover to the JD(U). Hence, we requested them to give up their claim,” said Singh. “Moreover, just because the Congress was allotted this seat in 2020 does not mean they have permanent rights over the seat. What should matter is the winnability of the candidate and the party, and not other considerations and petty egos of leaders,” Singh added.

Singh’s claim about the RJD reaching out to the state Congress leadership was corroborated by a few others in the top ranks of his party as well as some Congress leaders. “They (the state Congress leaders) initially accepted and appreciated our point of view,” RJD leader Umakant Yadav told Swarajya.

“They (the RJD) told us that since the mahagathbandhan had won 110 seats (against the NDA’s 125) and the ruling alliance’s effective strength was down to 123 (due to the deaths of its two legislators from Kusheshwar Asthan and Tarapur), the gap between the opposition and the ruling alliance can be reduced if the RJD bags both the seats. It is a fact that the RJD has a much better chance of winning both the seats than the Congress,” said a senior Congress leader who did not want to be named.

The Congress, however, did a volte-face and insisted on fielding its own candidate from Kusheshwar Asthan. Congress leaders then started piling pressure on the RJD leadership to take back their decision to field a candidate from that seat. Central Congress leaders also spoke to RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav and conveyed to him that in the interests of the alliance, the RJD should leave the seat to the Congress. The RJD patriarch reportedly fobbed off the Congress leaders by pleading that he was very ill and his son (Tejaswi) was handling all party affairs.

State Congress leaders said that the decision to turn down the RJD’s request to withdraw its (Congress’) claim over Kusheshwar Asthan was taken under pressure from Rahul Gandhi who acted on the advice of his close aides.

“Our central leaders thought that the entry of Kanhaiya Kumar into our party was a game changer and the Congress could chart its own course and emerge as a strong alternative to the BJP-JD(U) combine in Bihar. That is why they (the central leadership) insisted that we contest the seat and do not give in to the RJD,” said the state Congress leader.

It is well known that Rahul Gandhi’s closest aides and advisors are mostly left radicals. They are the ones who lured Kanhaiya Kumar from the CPI to the Congress and are responsible for Rahul Gandhi taking a decidedly left turn.

But the Congress gambit is most likely to fail. The party is a spent force and its fortunes have been on the decline ever since the Mandal wave brought the RJD to power in the state.

The Congress won only 19 of the 80 seats it contested in the 2020 elections, getting a vote share of 9.4 percent. It had won 28 seats in 2015.

RJD leaders believe, and rightly so, that the Congress has been piggy-backing on their party and without the RJD, the Congress amounts to nothing in Bihar. “Had the Congress contested the 2020 elections on its own, it would not have won more than two seats,” said RJD’s Singh.

“The Congress central leadership has been given wrong information and assessment about the party’s prospects in Bihar. Let them contest on their own and see how they fare. They will come running back to the mahagathbandhan after the results of the bypolls are declared,” said Yadav.

The odds are stacked against the Congress with the Left parties--the CPI(ML), CPI and CPI(M)--also stating that they remain firm allies of the RJD and will campaign against the Congress in the bypolls.

The Left is angry with the Congress for luring away Kanhaiya Kumar from the CPI. Kumar, along with Gujarat legislator Jignesh Mevani and Gujarat Congress working president Hardik Patel, are in Bihar to campaign for the Congress candidates in Kusheshwar Asthan and Tarapur.

“The Congress leadership has grossly overestimated the electoral appeal of Kanhaiya Kumar. Had he been that popular, he would have won his debut polls from Begusarai Lok Sabha constituency in 2019. He lost to the BJP’s Giriraj Singh by a huge margin, and that too when Begusarai is Kumar’s home seat whereas Singh was an ‘outsider’ there. The Congress will fall flat on its face,” said RJD’s Yadav.

Political analysts in Bihar tend to agree with this assessment. “It is very surprising that the Congress decided to break away from the mahagathbandhan. It stands the prospect of losing whatever little relevance it has in Bihar. It is an ill-advised and inexplicable move that defies all logic. The BJP, JD(U) and RJD are very powerful political forces in Bihar and the left parties also have their own strong pockets of influence. The Congress cannot carve even a niche for itself in this over-crowded political space and no one will concede any space to the Congress. The Congress will not be able to withstand the threats from multiple fronts it will face now,” said Vinay Sinha, a retired professor of history at Tilak Manjhi Bhagalpur University.

Political science professor Subodh Mishra says that the Congress will soon face an exodus from its ranks. “The Congress is a very weak force on its own in Bihar and now that it is out of the mahagathbandhan, other parties will poach on Congress ranks. The RJD is sure to lure away many Congress leaders and even MLAs. The Congress has taken a suicidal decision by walking away from the mahagathbandhan,” he said.

Also read: Cracks emerge in RJD-Congress alliance in Bihar over bypolls and Kanhaiya Kumar’s induction

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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