This Is Why Congress’ Flop Show In Bihar Represents A Personal Setback For Rahul Gandhi And His Strategy

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Nov 3, 2021 05:53 PM +05:30 IST
This Is Why Congress’ Flop Show In Bihar Represents A Personal Setback For Rahul Gandhi And His StrategyCongress member Rahul Gandhi and RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav.
  • Bihar Congress leaders were in favour of maintaining cordial relations with the RJD. It was Rahul Gandhi who prevailed on them to walk out of the 'Mahagathbandhan'.

The Congress’ calamitous performance in the Bihar bypolls with its candidates even losing their security deposits represents nothing short of a personal setback for Rahul Gandhi and a failure of his political strategy crafted by his left radical coterie.

The Congress central leadership, primarily Rahul Gandhi, had insisted on fielding candidates in both Kusheshwar Asthan and Tarapur Assembly seats where bypolls were held on October 30.

That has turned out to be a disaster with the Congress candidates getting fewer votes than even the nominees of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).

The Congress had a committed support base in the Kusheshwar Asthan seat, which is reserved for scheduled caste (SC) candidates, even though the BJP and its ally--the Janata Dal (United)--have been winning this seat since 2000.

The Congress’ Ashok Kumar, who is also the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (BPCC) working president, lost this seat to the JD(U)’s Shashi Bhushan Hazari in the 2020 Assembly polls by 7,222 votes. Kumar had polled 34.26 percent of votes while Hazari’s vote share was 39.55 percent.

But this time, Ashok Kumar’s son Aritrek who was given the Congress ticket polled just 5,603 votes. His vote share was a miserable 4.28 percent! The LJP candidate got 5,623 votes and a vote share of 4.29 percent.

The nearly thirty percentage point fall in the Congress’ vote share in Kusheshwar Asthan in a span of eleven months serves as an eloquent testimony to the complete marginalisation of the Congress in Bihar.

This seat was at the centre of a bitter tussle, and subsequent fallout, between the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

As per the seat-sharing formula within the RJD-led mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) that Congress was a constituent of, the latter was allotted this seat to contest from in the November 2020 Assembly elections.

The Congress assumed it would be allowed to nominate its own man as the mahagathbandhan candidate in the bypolls that was necessitated by the demise of Shashi Bhushan Hazari. But the RJD had other plans.

A survey carried out by the RJD a couple of months ago revealed that the Congress would lose miserably if it contested this seat again. RJD leaders told state Congress leaders that given their party’s dim electoral prospects in Kusheshwar Asthan, they should forfeit their claim to the seat and allow the RJD to field its candidate.

State Congress leaders initially agreed to this since they also knew that the results of the RJD survey were correct. But the Congress High Command would not have any of it and insisted that the party should field its own candidate from Kusheshwar Asthan.

The RJD stuck to its guns and said it would go ahead and field its candidate even if the Congress does not agree to surrender the seat. A section of BPCC leaders who have their ears to the ground and have been keen on maintaining cordial ties with the RJD for the sake of their party's survival in Bihar advised their central leaders that it would be wise to surrender the seat to the RJD.

“But Rahul Gandhiji insisted that we contest this seat even if that means snapping ties with the RJD and walking out of the mahagathbandhan. He said he was confident that our candidate would win the seat,” a senior BPCC office-bearer who did not want to be named told Swarajya from Patna.

This senior office-bearer who hails from Darbhanga (Kusheshwar Asthan falls within Darbhanga district) said that Rahul Gandhi had been ill-advised by the group of radical communists who form his inner circle.

“These people (the communists) claimed they had carried out their own survey in Kusheshwar Asthan and had found out that if the Congress fields a candidate, he (the candidate) would pose a tough fight to the NDA candidate. The chances of a Congress candidate winning this seat was pegged at 50 percent,” the BPCC leader said.

Rahul Gandhi’s communist aides also told him that breaking away from the mahagathbandhan would, in the long run, serve the Congress well. “Rahul Gandhi’s strategy, crafted by these radical leftists, is that the Congress should not be tied to the apron strings of a regional party (the RJD) in Bihar and should come out of the RJD’s shadow. That is the only way the Congress can reclaim lost ground in the state and emerge as a major player,” said the Congress functionary.

That is why, and as if in pique for not being given the Kusheshwar Asthan seat, the Congress also decided to field a candidate from Tarapur. That ended the Congress’ ties with the mahagathbandhan.

Like Kusheshwar Asthan, the bypoll in Tarapur was necessitated by the death of the sitting JD(U) legislator Mewalal Chaudhury. Chaudhury had defeated the RJD’s Divya Prakash by 7,225 votes in the November 2020 elections.

The Congress, of course, knew that its chances of winning Tarapur were not bright, but that is not why it fielded a candidate from this seat. The Congress leadership’s calculation was that its candidate would divide the anti-NDA votes and would thus spoil the prospects of the RJD candidate. And that would teach the RJD a lesson.

While it is debatable if that happened at all, the final outcome was that in Tarapur, too, the Congress candidate came fourth and secured fewer votes than even the LJP nominee. The Congress’ Rajesh Kumar Mishra polled 3,590 votes and a vote share of 2.2 percent.

Rajul Gandhi's strategy, thus, turned out to be a flop because it was based on flawed premises. Rahul’s communist aides led him up the garden path and caused this avoidable disaster for the party.

The Congress’ cataclysmic show is also a poor reflection on the vote-catching capability of former communist ‘icon’ Kanhaiya Kumar.

Kumar, a former president of the JNU students’ union whose name became associated with seditious slogans raised at an event organised by him to mark the hanging of Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru, was inducted into the Congress from the Communist Party of India (CPI) amidst a lot of fanfare in end-September.

Kumar, believed Rahul Gandhi and many senior Congress leaders, would be able to attract the youth to the Congress and would prove to be instrumental in improving the electoral prospects of the party.

Kumar, along with two other controversial ‘youth’ leaders--Gujarat Congress working president Hardik Patel and Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani, was deployed for campaigning in Bihar. A lot of hopes were pinned on them and the Congress leadership, especially Rahul Gandhi, calculated that the trio’s oratorical skills would sway the electorate.

Nothing of that sort happened, and not unsurprisingly. Kanhaiya Kumar had put his best foot forward and campaigned hard in the Begusarai Lok Sabha seat he had contested as a CPI candidate in the 2019 general elections.

Despite Begusarai being Kumar’s home district, he lost miserably to ‘outsider’ Giriraj Singh (of the BJP) by more than 4.22 lakh votes. Singh hails from Nawada and he was unhappy with his party’s decision to field him from Begusarai.

In the final analysis, Rahul Gandhi’s game plan in Bihar turned out to be a failure and has only served to drive the Congress to the far margins in the state. The bypoll results also serve as a reality check on Kanhaiya Kumar and the much-hyped but controversy-dogged ‘youth icons’ (Jignesh and Hardik).

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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