Acquisitive Cong’s failure to deliver behind alliance’s loss

Congress sought to punch above its weight in the Bihar election but got KOed. What else does one say about its pathetic 27% strike rate?

Of the seventy seats it wrested in the seat-sharing talks, the party won an embarrassing 19, just eight more than the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist’s 11 out of 19. The excuse being proffered for the Congress’s poor show is that most of the seats it got to contest were BJP-JD (U) pocket boroughs. That begs the original question: why did it accept the seat division?

The party’s averments fail to obfuscate the following: against the RJD’s initial offer of 50-odd seats, the Congress demanded a hundred. It got 70 after intense haggling and a threat to walk out.

In that backdrop, the lament of being saddled with difficult constituencies is an afterthought. A veteran socialist who isn’t in active politics said: the party is being like a danseuse putting the blame for a disastrous concert on an uneven floor: naach ne jaane aangan tedha.

The irony is that the bigger the Congress acts, the smaller it gets. Bihar is the case in point. In 2015, with 6.7% of the popular vote, it won 27 of the 41 constituencies it contested as part of the grand alliance. That it has increased its vote share to 9.4% this year is of little consolation. The party was a drag on the alliance that fought well and lost narrowly.

It’s reasonable for every political party with a national profile to look for opportunities to increase its footprint. In the situation the Congress finds itself, it perhaps can ask for more in parliamentary elecations, not as much in the assembly polls where its regional allies have greater on-ground traction.

In that limited perspective, the blame for the defeat of the Mahagathbandhan (MGB) rests squarely on the Congress’s doorsteps. Its failure is all the more glaring in comparison with Tejashwi Yadav, who made the RJD the single-largest party in the new legislature while being a candidate himself from Raghopur.

No other lead-campaigner in Bihar was an individual contestant, be it Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Nitish Kumar (who sits in the legislative council), Asaduddin Owaisi or Chirag Paswan.

The Congress dug a pit for itself by being tough at the negotiating table with the RJD without a matching resolve or wherewithal to fight it out in the battlefield. Its candidates and workers struggled for lack of support.

That bared its rickety organisation and inept leadership. What made matters worse was the middle-rung Congressmen’s tendency to help their chosen candidates –in the internal disbursement of seats — rather than working for the party.

Quite illustrative of such aberrations that were aplenty, was the case of Mashkoor Usmani, against whom the BJP ran a big offensive for his “refusal” to remove Jinnah’s portrait from the office of the students’ union when he was president of Aligarh Muslim University.

If party-persons who canvassed for Usmani are to be believed, the communal template the BJP grabbed was the handiwork of a section of Congressmen in Darbhagna.

Its reverberations reached Seemanchal, a region where the party’s perceived “soft-Hindutva” boosted the prospects of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen.

Owaisi’s party gained a toehold in Seemanchal by winning a by-election last year in Kishanganj. It now has a bigger presence there, winning five seats for itself and damaging the MGB in many more.

Retrospective wisdom is easily acquired. An honest post-mortem would make the Congress concede that if not Owaisi –whom it suspected of being a BJP-prop– the party could have ceded seats from its quota to Mukesh Sahani’s Vikasheel Insaan Party and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha. Having walked out of the MGB on election-eve, these outfits won four seats each, bolstering the National Democratic Alliance’s number in a tight-election.

To be fair, the decision to let HAM-VIP leave was primarily Yadav’s . Looking back, he seems to have erroneously relied on the 2019 parliamentary poll when, as per his analysis, their respective Musahar and Nishad vote did not get transferred to the grand alliance.

The real reason for that perhaps was Nitish Kumar’s return to the NDA in 2017. The Lok Sabha election that followed was a wipe-out for the MGB which lost all 40 seats except Kishanganj which the Congress won.

The MGB has lost the opportunity–but a stitch in time could’ve saved nine. That is, if the Congress had been less acquisitive in the bargain it struck with the RJD.

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