The outcome of the Bihar elections is both a setback and a wake-up call for Rahul Gandhi, the Congress general secretary who is being groomed to take over the party leadership in the near future.
While Nitish Kumar has carved out an impressive victory for the alliance of the
JD-U and the BJP, it is the Congress, which has damaged its own prospects. By giving tickets, which were decided in Delhi and not in Patna to nearly 134 "outsiders", some of them with criminal antecedents and some who were identified with Lalu Prasad, the Congress failed on all fronts -organisation, strategy and appeal.
What should be worrying for Rahul Gandhi in particular is that Uttar Pradesh which is his top priority state cannot escape the impact of the Bihar election results, especially in the 12 bordering districts which have a similar demographic profile. Therefore, he has to take another look at the players who were involved in Bihar and if need be go in for a major operation to replace them.
Neera Chandhoke of Delhi University's Political Science Department feels, "There is a need for strengthening and shaking up the organisation to bring in people who can connect to the grassroots. The Congress appeared clueless and it is in his own interest that Rahul Gandhi should replace the existing policy and strategy makers to get in those who may help him meet the challenges."
Congress president Sonia Gandhi tried to downplay the defeat by stating that the party will have to start from scratch. But the fact remains that the Bihar outcome is as much a Nitish Kumar victory as it is a self-carved defeat for the Congress.
The Congress changed its state unit president Anil Sharma and general secretary in-charge Jagdish Tytler three months before the polls and replaced them with little-known Mehboob Ali Kaiser and Mukul Wasnik, respectively. While the earlier team had promised tickets on the basis of the success of the party's membership drive, the
new team took decisions arbitrarily. The workers were so annoyed that some Congress leaders from the state were manhandled or beaten up.
The poor organisation was evident when the party manifesto was released after the first two phases by which time 100 seats had already gone to the polls.
"Had the party acted sensibly, it should have made Beni Prasad Verma the state in-charge and an upper caste person the state president. But such advice is removed from ground realities," a Congress veteran said.
The Bihar results could be a major setback for the Congress as it will impact the Hindi belt, so essential in any scheme to project Rahul as its future star.
The outcome has also propelled Nitish Kumar to the centrestage as a serious contender for the PM's chair in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Therefore, if Rahul treats it as a wake up call, he must get a new set of pragmatic advisers for himself and the party and send the existing ones in the party on a sabbatical, at least till 2014. Number game