Is Bihar Unit of Congress At War with Its Own Central Leadership?

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 Lalu Prasad had repeatedly been assuring full cooperation to the central leadership of the Congress in the fight against the Bharatiya Janata Party. — File photo

By-elections for two Assembly seats on October 30 bares its differences with long-time ally RJD

Soroor Ahmed | Clarion India

WHEN on Tuesday (October 26) the interim President of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, while addressing state unit chiefs as well as in-charges of the party talked about the lack of clarity among the party’s rank and file at the state-level, she might have in mind ugly developments in Bihar, where her own party leaders are locked in a nasty verbal battle with the regional outfit, the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Curiously, later on the same day Sonia reportedly had a telephonic conversation with RJD supremo Lalu Prasad who had repeatedly been assuring full cooperation to the central leadership of the Congress in the fight against the Bharatiya Janata Party but at the same time would criticise and mock at the Bihar unit leaders. What is surprising is that a day later on Tuesday the state Congress leaders denied that Sonia had a telephonic talk with Lalu.

Though the Tuesday meeting of the state leaders was apparently called keeping in view elections in five states early next year, the by-polls, especially in two Assembly seats in Bihar, is attracting much media attention. Sonia reminded the party leaders that the Bharatiya Janata Party is the main rival and that they should curb their own personal ambition while fighting it.

Notwithstanding Sonia’s advice the scenario in Bihar Congress — to say the least — is simply chaotic. The issue is not just that the Congress has decided to put up its candidates both in Kuseshwarsthan SC reserved seat (in Darbhanga district and Tarapur (in Munger district), but the way the whole exercise has been botched up. It is not only that the Congress defeat in both the seats is a foregone conclusion, what is more tragic for the party is that its Bihar unit leaders, as well as the AICC in-charge of Bihar, Bhakt Charan Das, have become a laughing stock of the world.

Both the seats were vacant after the death of Janata Dal-United legislators Shashi Bhushan Hazari and Mewalal Chaudhary at the height of the second wave of corona virus. The claim of the Bihar unit of the Congress party was that since its candidate, Ashok Ram, lost to Janata Dal-United in the last year’s Assembly election, which it contested in alliance with the RJD and Left parties, the seat should be left for it. The party initially decided to support RJD in Tarapur where the latter finished as runners up in 2020.

But the RJD went on to announce its candidates for both the seats claiming that it has done so following the signal from the central leadership of the Congress.  However, the state unit of the Congress fielded Atirek Kumar, the son of former MLA Ashok Ram as the candidate from Kuseshwarsthan. Ashok Ram himself is the son of former Union minister, late Baleshwar Ram and comes from Ravidas community of the Scheduled Castes.

The RJD candidate, Ganesh Bharati is a Musahar while the Janata Dal-United put up Aman Bhushan Hazari, son of late MLA, Shashi Bushan Hazari. He is a Paswan. The breakaway Chirag Paswan faction of the Lok Janshakti Party also fielded a candidate. Chirag also announced a nominee for Tarapur which incidentally falls under Jamui reserved Lok Sabha seat which he is representing in Parliament. Here Rajiv Kumar Singh and Rajesh Mishra are candidates of JD-U and Congress respectively. This is notwithstanding the fact that in Tarapur the Congress had initially given signal of supporting the RJD.

What upset the RJD most was the way the state Congress tried to drive a wedge between the two sons of Lalu Prasad — Tej Pratap and Tejashwi Prasad Yadav. Tej Pratap, who is known for unusual behaviour, was wooed by the state Congress leaders. The latter even announced that he would campaign for the Congress nominee in Kuseshwarsthan but for RJD in Tarapur.

Tej created a lot of scene in Patna at the time of arrival of Lalu Prasad after three and a half years on October 24. On Oct 27, he addressed massive rallies in both the constituencies. However, Tej suddenly trained his gun on Congress after Lalu and Rabri went to meet him at his bungalow on Oct 24-25 midnight. He now started attacking the state unit leaders of the Congress and accused them of playing into the hands of the BJP. This left the state Congress leaders high and dry.

While this drama was going on in Bihar, Sonia Gandhi took full advantage of the Tuesday meeting to make a veiled attack on some of the regional satraps of her own party in different states. Interestingly, the three Left parties — the CPI-ML, CPM and CPI — which together have 16 MLAs are fully backing RJD.

Independent political observers are of the view that Lalu’s decision to contest on both the seats has a point as the Congress, which fought in alliance with RJD and Left parties last year, fared disastrously. RJD contested on 144 seats and won 75, while left 70 for the Congress. The latter could win only 19. It was the poor performance of the Congress which prevented the Five-party Grand Alliance from coming to power.

In the 2020 Assembly election, the RJD showed a lot of generosity towards the state Congress when the latter had not even suitable candidates for half of the 70 seats. In this regard analysts cite the example of 2019 Lok Sabha poll when the BJP, which won 22 seats in 2014, agreed to contest only 17–and thus in process sacrificed the claim of five of its sitting MPs. This was simply because this time it went into the battle with the JD-U for which it left 17 seats and rest six for the LJP. The BJP showed this large-heartedness even though JD-U had won only two seats in 2014.

Though the by-election is only for two seats, it is crucial for the NDA which has very thin majority in the House of 243. Therefore, the RJD is taking the battle very seriously. If it really manages to snatch even a single seat it would be a big blow to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the leader of the Janata Dal-United.

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Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.

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