The Congress in Bihar is caught in a dilemma as its attempt at social engineering is proving to be a double-edged sword in the state where caste is the most significant factor in determining the poll outcome.
On one hand, the party is aggressively welcoming backward caste leaders — mainly Yadavs — to its fold ahead of assembly elections in October-November, but on the other, it is worried that the brand building exercise by general secretary Rahul Gandhi might be dented with the entry of criminals into its ranks.
Having been out of power in Bihar since 1989, the Congress is exploring different strategies and caste equations to emerge as a formidable force.
Party managers have been working on Yadav leaders from RJD to bring them into the party fold. Their efforts have finally succeeded as few Yadav leaders, including Anil Yadav, Naresh Yadav (former MPs) and Krishna Yadav, are set to join in the next few days.
The move is clearly aimed at denting the traditional vote-bank of Lalu Prasad’s RJD with which the Congress had an alliance till the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
Yadavs, who constitute 13 per cent of Bihar’s population, along with Muslims (16.5 per cent) are seen as key players in the state’s electoral politics.
The Congress has appointed a Muslim, Mehboob Ali Kaiser, as the state unit chief and also roped in Dalit leaders such as Brahmadev Paswan and Ramparit Paswan to its fold. Union minister and Congress general secretary in-charge of Bihar Mukul Wasnik is also a Dalit.
But such moves have also triggered concerns. The election of Lallan Kumar Yadav as state Youth Congress president has given jitters to some in the state unit, which is banking heavily on the hands-on approach of Gandhi who has been firm on his stand that the party be free of criminal elements.
He had even barred candidates charge-sheeted for a crime punishable with imprisonment for two years or more under the law from contesting the Youth Congress elections.
Lallan is a protégé of Bihar ganglord and former RJD MP Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav who is convicted in the CPM legislator Ajit Sarkar murder case. The CBI arrested the fugitive MP from a hospital in Gurgaon on Monday.
Though Pappu is at present not associated with any party, his wife Ranjeeta Ranjan is in the Congress and was recently appointed coordinator of the state unit’s media cell. She had unsuccessfully contested the last Lok Sabha polls from Saharsa. The party had also supported Pappu’s mother Shanti Devi, who contested as an independent from Purnea.