Sonia Gandhi’s presence at Sunday’s Patna rally mainly served two purposes – it sent a clear message that the Congress is no pushover but an essential part of Bihar’s Mahagathbandhan or grand alliance and secondly, it galvanised her party workers who could gather at the historic Gandhi Maidan only after nearly 25 years.
The speculation that the Congress had reluctantly joined the alliance due to its strong reservations against doing any business with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) had been doing the rounds in political circles for some time now. A section within the Bihar Congress had also worked overtime to ensure that Sonia does not attend the rally, arguing that her sharing the stage with RJD chief Lalu Prasad would sent a wrong message to the party cadre.
It was only on Friday evening that she confirmed her participation, after much persuasion by senior central leaders and state unit chief Ashok Chowdhary, who had pledged a crowd of 1.5-2 lakh at the rally. They finally convinced her that the workers would be highly demoralised if she doesn’t turn up at the event, as this was also the first time that any Congress leader would be addressing a public meeting at Gandhi Maidan. It was the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who had last a delivered a speech at this massive ground in Patna on 15 June 1990.
And all these years, Bihar Congress managers had strategically kept the top leadership away from Gandhi Maidan, acknowledging that getting around three lakh people to the venue was not their cup of tea.
Though Sonia’s presence at Sunday’s rally further cemented the “secular” alliance, political observers were quick to notice the camaraderie between the Congress leadership and Nitish. It was this new found bonhomie that apparently forced Lalu to accept Nitish’s leadership. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was much inclined to have a tie-up with the Janata Dal (United) rather than the RJD.
Bihar Congress leaders saw her sharing the dais with Bihar CM – this was the first time ever that the two were together at a public function – as an endorsement of Kumar’s leadership.
For them, Kumar is a “long-term investment” while Lalu is at the “fag end” of his political career, with many suggesting that the upcoming poll is the “last inning” for the RJD chief.