The Congress may have won a ‘respectable’ seat-sharing deal within the Grand Alliance (GA), thanks to the intervention of the central party leadership, but the nature of seats allotted has put the party in a spot.
The party is contesting at least six seats out of the total 70, allocated under the GA, which it could not win even in 1980, when the Congress won a clear majority and had replaced the Janata Party government in the state, post Emergency. There are 32 seats, in which the Congress could not garner a win in the last three decades.
To make matters worse for the party that once held sway over Bihar with a string of successful Chief Ministers, like Sri Krishna Babu, Binodanand Jha, KB Sahay, Mahmaya Sinha, BP Mandal, Jagannath Mishra and Satyendra Narain Singh, the party could not project any strong leader in the last three decades, since it relied on the politics of coalition, to lead it and counter the influence of regional leaders like RJD’s Lalu Prasad, JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar and former chief of LJP Ram Vilas Paswan.
Having remained out of power since the emergence of the regional parties in 1990, with the rise of Lalu Prasad and later Nitish Kumar, political observers feel the grand old party has lost the instinct and the confidence due to lack of credible and acceptable leadership to build the party from scratch.
“More than a leader in Bihar, the party needs workers, who were once the strength of the Congress. The Congress leadership wants strengthening of the organisation at the grassroot level and the state is yearning for change, but the state unit is unable to make use of the opportunity. The unfortunate part is that in the state everyone wants to lead, but nobody wants to take the pain to build the party. Being content riding piggyback is not what the Congress is made for. People look towards the party with expectations but the leaders have not been able to rise to occasion,” said Congress leader and former AICC member Kishore Kumar Jha.
Jha’s concerns are not out of place. Veteran Congress leader Sadanand Singh was also upset when the RJD initially dithered over its demand for 70 seats and even suggested that it should contest alone. Many other leaders were also in favour of breaking ties with the RJD and contesting independently.
Realising the vulnerability of the party owing to its ‘poor’ leadership in the state and lack of strong organisational set up, the RJD and senior leaders, acted astutely in the seat deal by claiming the safest constituencies for its candidates and allotting the leftovers to the Congress to deal with. “Not only has the party been deprived of many sitting seats in the name of coalition dharma, but it was denied the seats that showed better winning probability in the last assembly polls,” said a senior leader.
Smelling something fishy in seat negotiation, a BPCC spokesman, pleading anonymity, said that the Congress has been made to contest seats like Gopalganj, Maharajganj, Chanpatia, Jamalpur, Rajgir and Harnaut, which it never won after 1977. “The party could not wrest them in 1985 when it had swept the elections after the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The Congress had won 196 seats out of a total 323 constituencies of undivided Bihar,” said another leader.
The final list of candidates released on Thursday revealed that the Congress had to give in at least four of its sitting seats like Govindpur (Nawada), Manjhi (Saran), Bhore (Gopalganj) and Bachhwara (Begusarai) to the allies. The constituencies like Tarari (Bhojpur), Bhabua and Harkalkhi (Madhubani), where the Congress nominees had put up a strong fight and had come second, were taken away. Contrary to its demand for at least one seat in each district, the party has not been allocated any constituency in districts like Bhojpur, Jehanabad and Arwal, where upper castes form a decisive factor.
The selection of candidates, which saw controversial leaders and paratroopers getting preference, also triggered controversies and led to massive protests by the party workers. The BJP has already mounted its offensive against the Congress for fielding former Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) students’ union leader Maskoor Ahmad Usmai, under whose tenure a major row erupted over hanging of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s photo in the union office, from Jale (Darbhaga) and thereby supporting the anti-national sentiments.
Many senior leaders of the party also questioned the rationale behind fielding leaders like Pravin Kushwaha, Gunjan Patel (state Youth Congress president), Sanjeev Kumar, Nagendra Paswan Vikal, et al, as candidates in the constituencies they are hardly familiar with for election purposes. Kushwaha has been allocated Patna City instead of Sultanganj, Patel has been accommodated at Nalanda against his demand for Digha (Patna), Sanjeev is contesting from Vaishali against his request for Paroo (in Muzaffarpur) and Vikal is contesting from Rosera (Samastipur) even as he worked hard in Patna.
Former BPCC chief Chandan Bagchi said that the party’s strategy appeared to be self-defeating. “Selection of candidates for the rest of the phases was worse than the first phase. Leaders have been allotted constituencies which they are not familiar with. None of the senior leaders of the state were consulted in selection of candidates,” said Bagchi.
Former professor and head of the department political science of Patna University Nawal Kishore Chaudhary observed that the Congress appeared to be on weak turf, despite being allocated a reasonably good number of seats. “The party has been allotted 45 seats, which it had not won in the last two decades. Twenty seats are such that even the Congress or RJD could not win in the last 20 years. The Congress should have avoided fielding controversial leader like Usmani in the name of hyper nationalism. Moreover, the Congress, whose support base continues to decline after the advent of the Mandal Commission in 1990, never tried to reclaim its glorious past. It relied on crutches of its partner instead of rebuilding its support base. The Congress continues to face a leadership crisis in Bihar after Jagannath Mishra. While the RJD has Tejashwi Prasad Yadav as its CM candidate, the Congress has decided to go faceless in the elections,” the retired PU professor said.
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