Critical cameo

Swabhiman-rally5 Sonia Gandhi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar pose for a photograph with RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav's daughter and RJD leader Misha Bharti as Tejaswi Yadav, son of Lalu Prasad Yadav, clicks photos during the Swabhiman rally at Gandhi Maidan, in Patna | PTI

In the run-up to the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi decided that the party would go it alone in Bihar. It won two of the 40 seats it contested. In the 2010 assembly polls, it contested all 243 seats, but won only four. Since then, there has been little change in the ground situation—the state leadership is weak and the grassroots organisation is a shambles.

But, the state leadership of the party has always maintained that the Congress should not align with the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal as that would finish off the party in the state. However, Rahul has not heeded the state leadership’s advice this time, and has taken the Congress to the Mahagathbandhan, the grand alliance, of the parties of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad.

Though it will be contesting only 40 seats, the Congress is hoping for more than just electoral gains. A joke is doing the rounds—that the Congress will not be able to find candidates for the 40 seats. And, it is also being said that Nitish supporters could be fielded from the seats that the Congress has got.

Having taken a strident stand against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress had to be part of a ‘secular alliance’. And, joining hands with the two regional parties was the only way to take on Modi. So, the Congress is going all out to project Nitish as the undisputed leader of the coalition.

“It is an election between a hawabaaz [windbag] prime minister and a kaamkaji [hardworking] chief minister. No person can belittle parliamentary democracy and run the country,” said C.P. Joshi, AICC general secretary in charge of Bihar.

The Congress’s expectation is that a victory for the grand alliance in Bihar will give the Congress a boost at the Centre. It would also give the party something to cheer about as it gets ready for the next round of assembly elections in 2016, which includes states such as Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal.

The involvement of the Congress in the tie-up gives the anti-Modi campaign in Bihar a national fervour. It was perhaps for the first time that the JD(U) and the RJD addressed a joint press conference from the Congress podium, under the Hand symbol. It was evidence of the anchor role being played by the party in the alliance.

It was also because of the Congress that Lalu had to agree to part with 100 seats to the JD(U) and accept Nitish as chief ministerial candidate. In a smart move, Nitish got Sonia Gandhi and Rahul on board, and got the Congress to agree on contesting 40 seats. With the Congress on his side, he forced Lalu’s hand, as the RJD supremo could hardly afford a three-cornered fight.

Lalu was not left with any choice as Nitish and the Congress would have gone to town about the RJD indirectly helping Modi by refusing to be a part of the secular alliance. This situation could have led to Muslim voters deserting the RJD. By agreeing to the terms set by Nitish and the Congress, Lalu has tried to ensure that the Muslim-Yadav vote bank that he has relied on stays intact.

“Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are a very important ingredient of the alliance despite the Congress contesting only 40 seats, and Nitish realises that,” said a Congress leader. The Congress is hoping that this cameo role will win it critical acclaim.

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